HomeFocus On Climate & Sustainability in Schools Initiative

Climate & Sustainability in Schools Initiative

This project is exploring ways to integrate climate & sustainability in schools, with a focus on student-centered, inquiry-based learning. As of January 2017, the initial phase is complete: the GHG calculator and the background information for teachers, including a subject-by-subject look at cross-curriculum integration, is now complete. We’re in the process of putting the text online at teach-climate.net, a new site dedicated to this project.

It covers ways that teachers can use school-level greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] data — not only in environmental science but almost every other subject area and grade level as well. This approach provides a concrete process that’s related to current issues and can also be used to raise questions about climate science, how GHG is calculated, how one school compares to others (in the district or elsewhere), the impacts of emissions on society & the ecosystem, and what people can do in response. (Contact us at teachclimate@sustainlv.org.)

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:

The purpose of this guide is to help teachers nd ways to integrate climate and sustainability concepts in their classrooms—in ways that will enrich and enhance the classes and help meet learning goals. Sustainability concepts are inherently complex and well-served by interdisciplinary approaches, so we also include ideas on how that could work. Equally important, it’s essential that these topics be covered in core subjects in which all students participate, not just environmental sci- ence or other elective courses.

It’s important for schools to be leaders in raising community awareness of global warming. As the Bethlehem Area School District put it:

We believe educational institutions have a special responsibility to demonstrate leadership in their communities as responsible stewards of shared environmental resources. We further believe the potential for adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects resulting from climate change are real.…

School districts that proactively address environmental concerns better serve their students and their communities. These school districts provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to address the critical, systemic challenges faced both locally and globally.

—Bethlehem Area School District Climate and Sustainability Commitment, adopted April 2014

We are not trying to provide a curriculum or even individual units or lesson plans—our goal is simply to provide a variety of entry points that can help teachers integrate climate and sustainability issues in your classroom. Adapt the information you find here to fit your classes, your students. It’s not an addition to what you have to cover—it’s a way to help meet learning goals and to enrich and enhance your classes, a framework that can help you reach goals for student learning and skill development.

This is not just for science teachers! In fact, a pure science perspective may fail to develop the social, ethical, and political contexts that are critical to understanding this issue. This guide provides context and information for teachers in any subject area to feel comfortable with these topics—background information and sources on global warming’s causes, impacts, and social-justice implications. We also include sample ideas for engaging students in every subject area.

It’s also worth mentioning that people tend to use the terms global warming and climate change interchangeably. Global warming is the direct result of more heat being trapped by higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, causing slow increases in temperature. The warmer land and oceans causes climate change that we experience directly. So global warming and climate change aren’t exactly the same, but they both refer to the same phenomena.

Why a GHG inventory?

Many students are familiar with individual ‘carbon footprints’. While these can be useful, a GHG inventory measures the footprint of the institution and makes it easier to see that global warming and climate change are systemic problems that need action by institutions, organizations, and government, not just individual choices. And a GHG inventory helps make the concepts more visible and understandable. (Of course, school districts should inventory their GHG emissions and publish the results as a way to increase community awareness, but many don’t do this.)

Most important of all, it is a good starting point for students to explore what can be done to re- duce emissions and to begin a deeper engagement with the ideas of sustainability—and to develop critical-thinking skills that will enable them to play a role in solving the emerging problems. It can also help students develop their skills in research, data collection and analysis, teamwork, reporting, and presentation.

Because the inventory is based on internationally-recognized protocols, it is a well-de ned and practical project that has many opportunities for students to explore and engage; it is even quite possible to guide students to complete the inventory themselves. And we provide the School GHG Calculator to simplify the process.

Since this isn’t just for science teachers, we have included a brief overview of the greenhouse effect, Earth’s carbon cycle, sources of emissions, principles of GHG measurement and accounting, and ideas for using the results to create change. (Since this guide will be used in a variety of settings, we highlighted some potential vocabulary words and provided reasonably concise definitions; whether these are appropriate for your class depends on the academic level of students and the subject matter you are covering. There’s also a quick refresher on the metric system.)

A GHG inventory is only one step towards raising awareness and promoting a sustainable future. It uses real data about one’s own school, so it provides a neutral, factual way to initiate discussion of sustainability in all subject areas. At the same time, the multiple and interdependent elements of sustainability provide a powerful framework for learning about and understanding social, political, and economic systems, as well as quality-of-life issues and new ways to solve problems.

Many students understand that global warming and climate change, and the need to live more sustainably, are real problems that affect or threaten their futures. This can help some students engage more easily and fosters skill development. The focus on using what they learn to create change in their own school and community can also increase their interest, so a GHG inventory is not only an initiating activity to get discussion started—it’s also a good basis for culminating activities that raise awareness in the school and in the community.

Warning: even as we enter 2017, you may encounter climate skeptics—students, parents, or colleagues who doubt that global warming is real or caused by human activity. The resources listed throughout this guide can help you deal with any such situations.

A few of the many Resources we’ve found:


We are also starting to develop resources for teaching sustainable food systems — more news on this soon!

Internship opportunities

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[Page updated October 2016]

This entry was posted in Advocacy & Activism, Arts & Culture, Campus Sustainability, Climate, Climate, Community Gardening, Demand Reduction, Education for Sustainability, Environmental Health, Environmental Justice, Food for Health, Fossil Fuels, Nuclear Power, Renewable Energy, Rights of Nature | Mother Earth, School Food, Schools & Learning, Shale gas, Social Justice, Sustainabilty & Health, Youth Development.

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