UPADHYAYA: Virginia needs comprehensive climate education — now – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

The fact is that climate change is not a future problem — it is already present in our lives, in every state and every continent
In 2020, a study from the National Center for Science Education graded Virginia’s state science standards for climate change with a failing grade — “F.” Notably, compared to neighboring states, Virginia was the only one with a failing grade. In short, Virginia is facing one of the greatest regional threats of climate change, yet we have the least comprehensive state plan to educate citizens about it. In response to this obvious failure, the Virginia legislature recently created a bill which would require the Virginia Board of Education to provide local public school boards with instructional materials on climate change and environmental literacy. Laudably, the bill passed the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates this spring and is currently awaiting Governor Glenn Youngkin’s response by April 8th. In short, this bill should be applauded as a step in the right direction which can and should be built upon. Comprehensive climate education represents a way to teach future generations about the threat of climate change which will, in turn, enable them to mitigate its impacts and solve future crises.
Climate change education — which includes lessons on the negative impacts of climate change and the technology which mitigates its impacts — aims to help people better understand the climate crisis. However, a climate change curriculum is only as strong as the support provided to its teachers — and Virginia has clearly failed in this regard. Virginia trails other states in providing resources to teachers that equip them with the basic tools for providing climate education— for example, online websites, like Subject to Climate, that help teachers develop lesson plans. Additionally, Virginia has not trained teachers in how best to implement a climate change curriculum, something which could be done through district-sponsored summer workshops. In short, and according to the National Center for Science Education, Virginia completely lacks a framework that would guide teachers in undertaking climate change education. 
Virginia’s resistance to implementing comprehensive climate education frameworks likely comes from generally outdated science standards and a denial of climate change. As a state, Virginia has historically been resistant to conversations about the origins of climate change. And unfortunately, this is a belief that continues to shape our political landscape and which has impeded consensus around what should be a given — educating citizens about the dire threat that is climate change. Despite such resistance, the state has an obligation to give teachers the means to educate their students on the present threat of climate change. 
In step with political trends of climate denialism, Virginia received a failing grade because of its misleading and obfuscating language about the climate. Prior to the passage of HB 1088, officials disputed the veracity of the grade, arguing that the study reviewed Virginia’s 2018 Science Standards of Learning document, not the larger curriculum framework that the officials claim individual schools incorporate. However, whether or not public school districts in Virginia implement genuine climate education of their own accord, the lack of a single, curricular framework is a state-wide failure which presumes that climate education is not universally applicable. While problems exist with the highly standardized form of education encouraged by state curricular frameworks, the existence of a framework does ensure that students learn elements of complex topics to which they otherwise would not be exposed — topics which existentially threaten their livelihoods.
The current state of Virginia’s climate education is particularly concerning because of the large impact that climate change will have on the landscape of this state. Virginia has the second highest rate of sea level rise on the East Coast.  If sea levels rise by 3 feet by 2100, less than the 5-foot estimate, it will destroy 13,000 historic and prehistoric archaeological sites in Southeast Virginia. In addition, Virginia is home to the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the country which hosts an exceptionally distinct ecosystem. The expected rising temperatures and increased salinity in the Chesapeake Bay as a result of climate change will decimate the local food chain of marine life. This, in turn, will impact the livelihood of fisheries along the coast, potentially harming Virginia’s position as the third-largest producer of marine products in the country. In short, climate change will undoubtedly have severe impacts on the Virginian geography, economy and community.
Education inhabits a unique role in the fight to address climate change, which this comprehensive climate education bill acknowledges. Education can encourage an important sort of radical systemic change while adopting the guise of incrementalism — a passionate and educated public, ready to discuss and vote on issues like climate change. Introducing these topics early on empowers students to make personal connections to their environment and shift their behavior accordingly. Furthermore, educating people about the potential health impacts of climate change allows citizens to have a better understanding of how their actions may impact the environment. Integrating climate change education into the existing formal curriculum, as this bill begins to do, will not only educate students from elementary school to high school, but also is a way to facilitate healthy discourse for solutions.
The fact is that climate change is not a future problem — it is already present in our lives, in every state and every continent. Youngkin must take initiative and sign this new bill. Doing so will kickstart support for climate education, support which would place Virginia in step with the rest of the country and promote comprehensive education which adapts to changing lived environmental realities. The time to educate future generations is now. If we are to maintain hope for a solution in the future, we must work on educating our children today. 
Apal Upadhyaya is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.
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