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Local News

Closing the Generational Gap on Climate-Change Education

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Mike Moen

A new report warns that the window is quickly closing to prevent the most harmful effects of climate change. As global leaders face pressure to act, efforts continue to educate Wisconsin families.

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said countries have to quickly come together to achieve deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to secure a livable planet for all.

Rebecca Borkowski is the executive director of the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education, which supports teachers and students in learning about these issues.

She said they’ve sometimes avoided using words like climate change around parents to avoid political tension. But that’s changing.

“I think it’s at a point,” Borkowski said, “where affiliates like ours and the national network are just going to have to take more action and be more direct in our conversations.”

As part of their effort to get more climate education in schools, her group is trying to get more adults to become engaged with the issue.

That includes hosting online discussions and prompting elected officials and political candidates to talk about climate change, including those running in Wisconsin’s high-profile state Supreme Court race.

A recent survey of teachers from the North American Association for Environmental Education found that 56% of respondents’ students have brought up climate change on their own in the classroom.

Megan Giefer chairs the Wisconsin chapter’s advocacy committee and said getting kids to pay more attention isn’t a concern.

She suggested that it’s harder when adults, who have lived through changing seasons their whole lives, might feel that a cold and snowy winter is enough to think there isn’t a threat.

“And so, a lot of people will brush it off and say, ‘Well, that’s the Midwest, that’s Wisconsin,'” said Giefer. “But it’s really not what we’re supposed to be having.”

A 2021 statewide report noted that Wisconsin winters are warming more rapidly than summers.

Meanwhile, the national teacher survey says a lack of formal curriculum and an unclear mandate are among the reasons why school districts haven’t made climate change education a priority.

This story was written by Mike Moen, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.