If the United States had taken decisive actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus when it was first discovered here, such as mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing, the country’s total number of COVID-19 deaths would be around 40% lower than it is. As vaccinations are now rolling out, we can look back on the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic to see how damage could have been avoided.
The United States is also in the middle of another crisis: climate change. Unlike with COVID-19, the United States has the opportunity to prevent further climate change damage and disaster through swift and decisive action. To mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, the United States must first prioritize education about climate change, starting with our youth.
The issue, instead, is that the local, state and federal governments have not done enough to encourage schools to raise awareness of the harmful effects of climate change already taking place. Global warming has contributed to recent weather anomalies like last summer’s wildfires in California, recent powerful hurricanes like Hurricane Dorian and persistent flooding in Florida. Despite witnessing these events firsthand, many people do not know the impact their actions have on environmental disasters.
This knowledge gap can be bridged by educating youth about climate change. The devastating effects of climate change will only compound over time, affecting future generations even further. Luckily, educating youth about climate change has proven very effective in changing their behavior. Children who are educated about climate change not only feel more inclined to take action to prevent it, but also can influence their parents as well, even across political divides.
The push to integrate climate and environmental literacy into school curricula is beginning to take form. As of 2013, the topic of climate change has been included in both middle school and high school science standards across the United States. More recently, New Jersey declared it will become the first state to include the topic across all content areas in K-12 as of fall 2021.
These states are making progress, but it is not enough. Without effective action, the temperature might rise 1.5 degrees by as early as 2030. Scientists identify an increase in global temperature of 1.5 degrees or more as the point of irreversible damage to the world’s environment that will cause an additional 241,000 deaths per year.
With destruction looming in the near future, Georgetown University students must also take part in educating our communities. With Georgetown-run environmental publications like Cura Tera and the Georgetown Environment Initiative, and multiple environmentally focused organizations like the Georgetown Renewable Energy and Environmental Network, Georgetown students have many ways to access information about climate change and the environment. With this knowledge, we can help raise awareness in our own communities about climate change. In fact, as the climate crisis looms, we must take on the responsibility of educating others about climate change once we are educated ourselves.
As students, our education also opens avenues to a more sustainable world. Education about the environment can encourage more sustainable actions and inform the choices we make on a daily basis. This education can positively affect how we grocery shop, travel and purchase clothes.
Further, as students, we can use our education to push policymakers toward constructive climate policy. Georgetown’s location in the capital of the United States gives us a unique position to advocate for real change. Being educated about climate change gives us an opportunity to promote change not just locally, but nationally as well.
With emissions reductions, recycling, composting, beekeeping, climate migration, climate racism and countless other topics, climate education can seem overwhelming. But quickly, we are running out of time. When it comes to climate change, let’s put our masks on before it is too late.
Katelyn Rickert is a first-year in the College. Sustaining the Discussion appears online every other Friday.