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Commentary Detail

The Role of Education in Preparing for Climate Change
Commentary by: Susan Uchitelle
Aired December 23, 2011

Most of us now will acknowledge that dramatic climate change has become a reality. Many institutions and organizations are working under that assumption; some are not. But it is my belief there is a major role for educators to play at all levels: elementary, high school, college and beyond, to acknowledge the consequences of climate change global warming as a fact and to prepare their students for what will be the changed world of the future.

Jeremy Rifkin is the President of the Foundation on Economic Trends. He has written extensively on the impact of science and technology on the environment along with the economy and our society.

As one of the architects of Europeís third industrial revolution, Mr. Rifkin has enabled those countries to develop and implement a long term economic sustainability plan to address the tremendous oncoming challenges of climate change.

Why is this important for the education of our children and certainly for youngsters in the St. Louis region? Because climate and, as a result, life styles are and will continue to dramatically change. Students need to know this and be prepared for a world quite different from the one they currently experience. Their expectations and assumptions must also be different.

Regionally our St. Louis climate may become wetter and much hotter. Our rivers could rise, possibly causing significant flooding and loss of useful land for so many who depend upon that land for their lifeís work and income.

If children now are not aware of this changing environment and not educationally prepared to learn how to work with these new challenges, they may be greatly disadvantaged, unable to provide for families, unable to find work that will sustain them.

Am I being too bleak in my outlook? I donít think so. Recent research indicates that these changes are upon us.

Thus it behooves schools to become knowledgeable about the weather changes in our future and to prepare next generations to handle unanticipated weather turmoil. Again, much of the preparation should begin now.

New curricula should be developed and implemented at all grade levels focusing on the long term consequences of climate change. global warming. Our children should be studying weather patterns; uses of wind and solar for alternative energy needs; learning to garden and grow their own food; learning about sustainable plans and housing needs. This education can begin in the very early grades and continue through high school and beyond.

In this region alone we need to be prepared to handle the proposed increase in temperatures, more flooding, more violent storms, and less resources to deal with the results of turbulent weather. Just look at this yearís weather damage alone. Heavy rains in the spring followed by heat and drought in the summer. Tornados that caused significant damage to our airport and north county neighborhoods and a devastating tornado in Joplin.

If these events are harbingers of the future, then now is the time for educational preparation.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Susan Uchitelle

Susan Uchitelle


Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.

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