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Could Universal Environmental Education Spur A Green Revolution?

Kentucky’s two senators, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, are both “skeptical” that human behavior has caused climate change. But since 2011, when, following years of planning and collaboration by scientists and educators, the state approved its Environmental Literacy Plan, students there are taught the reverse. High schoolers, in chemistry class, learn how methane emissions alter the makeup of the Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to global warming. In a historically coal-producing state, they learn about the harmful effects of the industry; now, at public-school hosted career days, representatives from the “green economy”–from wind turbine technicians to energy-use experts–are required to be on site to offer advice.

Even though Kentucky’s voting population runs red, the state is among the most progressive in the country when it comes to environmental education. The United States, however, currently has no formalized environmental education policy (and under the current administration, is unlikely to implement one), but volunteers in 48 out of the 50 states have drafted their own plans. The results have been mixed. Earth Day Network (EDN)–the advocacy organization that emerged from the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970–surveyed the status of environmental education across the 50 states.“Some are decent, some are horrible,” EDN President Kathleen Rogers tells Fast Company. “Some have the right idea but haven’t made progress.”

In the U.S., EDN will advocate for environmental literacy to be added to the Common Core State Standard. [Photo: Kheat/iStock]

The theme of Earth Day 2017 is environmental and climate literacy, and part of the goal of the theme, Rogers says, is to rectify the country’s uneven educational landscape, and develop an environmental education platform that can be applied across the world. The educational goals are part of EDN’s larger five-year strategy, launched in 2015 and timed to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in 2020, to advocate for environmental awareness and action around the globe; other efforts include planting 7.8 billion trees (one for each projected person on the planet) and building the world’s largest environmental service project, Billion Acts of Green, that encourages citizens to take small steps toward reducing their environmental footprint, like eating less meat and discontinuing use of disposable plastic.

To launch the environmental literacy campaign this Earth Day, EDN has partnered with the March for Science, which will pass through Washington, D.C., as well as over 517 other cities that have registered as “satellite marches,” this April 22. At the center of the EDN campaign launch will be a series of teach-ins–a nod to the educational model that activated the first Earth Day–held on the National Mall; organizations from the National Audubon Society to the Princeton University Press have registered to host sessions in Washington that day. EDN and the March for…

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