Ramapo hosts Global Power Dialog for New Jersey

Photo courtesy of "Solve Climate by 2030" Website

On April 7, Ramapo hosted the Global Power Dialog for New Jersey on behalf of Solve Climate By 2030, an international climate education project started by Dr. Eban Goodstein at Bard College. The dialog focused on the incorporation of change into the curriculum of every class on every level.

Dr. Ashwani Vasishth began by summarizing how New Jersey was the first state to mandate teaching climate change across the K-12 curriculum in all subjects. The dialog was meant to inspire ideas for changes to aid teachers who had little training on the topic. Participants were requested to view sustainability as a worldview that requires empathy to be taught successfully.

Jaimie Cloud, the founder of The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, described climate change as symptomatic of a lack of sustainability education. Cloud believes if people understood the value of ecosystem services like climate control, this crisis would not exist. Ignorance has caused people to wrongly prioritize the economy and take more from the planet than it can give.

Harriet Shugarman, the executive director of ClimateMama and an adjunct professor at Ramapo, claimed the sustainability movement began with experts worrying no one was listening, but now people were taking notice.

Everyone must play a role to make a difference, as the issue is too great to put on “the shoulders of our youth… educators, parents, corporations alone,” Shugarman said. The N.J. mandate threatens to stick teachers with the burden if it is not backed with decent funding. Informal education, like The Climate Reality Project, also must be emphasized.

Dr. Carrie Ferraro, the associate director of the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience Initiative at Rutgers, presented on the virtual resources provided by N.J. Climate Change Resource Center.

Resources include information on the impacts of climate change, structural solutions, the economic and health benefits of fighting climate change, and how we can improve the wellbeing of vulnerable communities. The site also hosts recordings of conferences and webinars that cover topics such as how residential carbon footprints can be reduced.

Nora DiChiara spoke next about her work as the director of Strategic Planning and Programs at Duke Farms, which annually runs about 300 free or low-cost programs, mainly for students. She believes now is a crucial time to promote positive educational opportunities without worrying about perfection.

“What we do on a local level is going to have regional, national, international impacts,” she said. Successful education involves engaging every age group with appropriate material that relates to local issues and can be applied on a larger scale. 

Svanfridur Mura, the vice president of West Orange High School’s Fight For Green environmental club, was the final speaker. Her club was concerned the updated New Jersey Student Learning Standards requirements to include climate education would not be effectively implemented.

“We do know that we can’t expect the district to do everything,” she said. The club has published a memo calling for student involvement and representation in all discussions of making the curriculum sustainable. Members advocate for the curriculum to incorporate local issues, hands-on work, up-to-date climate science, and discussions of environmental justice. Student empowerment must be the central goal of climate education to prevent passivity.

Three breakout rooms were created for participants to brainstorm how different areas of climate education can be improved. The breakout room focusing on PreK-12 education came up with several ideas: altering the curriculum to include authentic opportunities to help with local issues, supporting community partnerships, and integrating sustainability into the existing material.

They also said that feedback and results must be visible for success. Finally, it is critically important not to teach children there is only one correct way to solve environmental problems.

The breakout room focusing on communities had three ideas: community involvement and citizen science opportunities can expose kids to the outdoors and engage them with the environment; education involves unlearning or changing incorrect beliefs about the climate crisis; people in power must take a proactive approach to assist, engage, inform and empower others.

The breakout room that focused on higher education promoted an infusion model to integrate sustainability issues across the curriculum and encourage on-campus training programs. This included research opportunities to help students to learn through participation, and a curriculum that balances positivity with scientific facts will lead to action and empowerment, instead of fear. 

The recording will soon be uploaded for those who missed it.