Proposed Education Sector Joint Press Release Calling on the 116th Congress to Act on Climate Change

to be released on 1.10.19

“As the leaders of thousands of school districts, boards of education, student councils, various school system support organizations, and millions of school stakeholders from across our great country, we thank you, the members of the 116th Congress, for your leadership and for your service to all Americans. We especially appreciate your commitment to young people.

As educators and educational leaders, young people are our primary constituents. Everything we do, in our official capacity, should help empower young people to create healthy, successful, and thriving futures for themselves, for their families and communities, and for our country.  

It is with this goal in mind that we have taken the extraordinary step of coming together to speak up for Congressional climate action to protect our students and all future generations of Americans. Climate change is a children’s issue, a generational justice issue, and a human rights issue. We come together to respectfully call on this 116th Congress to also come together---across party lines---to act boldly and effectively to preserve a safe climate. We, educational leaders and the school communities we serve, need you, the 116th Congress, to act on climate change. There are multiple common sense policies---carbon pricing, 100% clean energy policies, and science-based climate restoration plans---which you could quickly enact to get us started down the path towards climate restoration. Time is of the essence.

Due to new scientific insights and the direct experience of climate-related disasters during the 114th and 115th Congress, the direct threat of unmitigated climate change to all young Americans and future generations has never been more clear to us, the educational sector.  

Previous Congresses have not acted responsibly to prevent catastrophic climate change despite clear and consistent appeals from the scientific community. It is not too late, but you, the 116th Congress, must act quickly and boldly to protect young people from harm.

Continued Congressional inaction on climate undermines our schools and our mission to empower young people to thrive and succeed. Continued Congressional climate inaction undermines our generational moral authority. Continued Congressional climate inaction makes it likely that our young people will face overwhelming humanitarian climate disasters within their lifetimes. Continued Congressional climate inaction conditions our young people and our vital public institutions to accept incoherence and irrelevance from our federal government which could become an existential threat to our democracy.

No matter how successful the educational sector is at transmitting sustainability skills and civic engagement to our young people, if you, the 116th Congress do not act decisively on climate change, the problem may grow faster than the abilities of our young people to manage.

As educators, we are the sector most clearly able to see and understand the moral and humanitarian impacts of Congress’ climate inaction.

Our love and respect for our students, our country, and our democracy mean that we will no longer be silent about Congressional climate neglect. Congressional inaction on climate change threatens our mission, our values, our democracy, and most tragically our young people. You, the 116th Congress, can act on climate. Our young people are precious and miraculous. You must act on climate change to give them an opportunity to thrive and prosper.

Thank you for your consideration, for your service, and for acting on climate change to protect all Americans. On March 27th, 2019, youth-adult delegations will visit Congress to hand-deliver climate action resolutions from school communities across the country. This will be an opportunity for you to communicate your plans for national climate action with the educational sector. We trust that the 116th Congress will do the right thing by our climate for our current students and all future generations.”

Rationale: On January 3rd, 2019 the 116th Congress will be sworn in. This Congress will serve until January, 2021. Given the recent UN-IPCC report and the series of climate-related disasters which have traumatized millions of American school children during the 115th Congress, the 116th Congress should be the one to finally act boldly and effectively to minimize the threat of climate change to young people and future generations. All evidence, past precedent, and conventional thinking from Washington insiders suggests that the 116th Congress will not act on climate change. This should be unacceptable to the educational sector.

Educational leaders from across the country can take the extraordinary step of speaking together, with one non-partisan voice, to help move Congress to act on climate to protect students. One week into the new Congress, on January 10th, educational leaders from across America can host coordinated press conferences and issue a joint press release similar to the one above, clearly articulating the moral imperative for this new Congress to take bold, fair, and effective climate action within the next two years.

It is not standard practice for educational leaders to speak so publicly and assertively about policy issues. However, climate change and our complete lack of a coherent national climate policy is outside the bounds of our shared values, norms, and scientific understandings.

Our institution exists to cultivate young people who act in an scientifically literate, just, patriotic, compassionate, and optimistic ways. We, educators and educational leaders, work hard to embody these same values ourselves. For more than 30 years, the educational sector has stood by, hoping Congress would do the right thing on climate for our students. At first, this silence simply demonstrated faith in our American system of government and in norms of governance. Now, especially given the certainty of climate science and the immediacy of the impacts of climate change and climate inaction, we should no longer silently ignore the direct link between national climate inaction and (those who support this inaction) and the direct harm and risk to our primary constituents, young people. Our silence about Congressional inaction undermines our mission and our institutional moral authority. By raising our voices together to help correct generational climate neglect, we act in accordance with the same values we help our students develop.

It is for this reason that educational leaders take the extraordinary step of setting aside traditional norms guiding their relationship with federal electeds in order to speak up publicly and assertively for national climate action.

In addition, if we do not speak clearly about the confusing, unscientific behavior by federal electeds, students may internalize this incoherence within their own the mental schema. Our words may not move Congress to act in a way that aligns with our shared values (they might, though), but by publicly highlighting this incoherence in Congressional behavior, we can help our students build a more accurate, coherent and healthy mental schema related to our socio-ecosystem. We help prevent them from normalizing mental frameworks in which Americans expect our federal government to be incapable of taking common sense action to protect young people, our highest value. If we teach them to internalize this expectation, our very democracy itself will be threatened.

Please encourage all school stakeholders---Superintendent’s, educational leaders, school board members, student council members, PTA officers, educator’s union presidents, and school support non-profits---to issue this press release (or a similar one) on January 10th, 2019.

This is not an effort that needs to be centrally managed. Each group or individual educational leader can just signal to others that they will release the press statement and/or hold a press conference. Each individual or group can modify or edit this press release as they see fit. If enough of us January 10th, it will have an impact. Please be sure to share links to your press statements with empower@schoolsforclimateaction.org.  

We will be visiting Congress in March, 2019 and lots of press statements (and resolutions) from across the ed sector will help us make the case to Congress that the education sector wants bold, effective action on climate change.

Please contact empower@schoolsforclimateaction.org or visit www.schoolsforclimateaction.org. I’ll post a link to our website listing groups and individuals who will be participating.

Thanks so much!

Park Guthrie

6th grade teacher and co-founder of Schools for Climate Action