The world wakes up to the role of education in climate solutions

Earlier this year I visited an empty school in an affluent part of New Jersey. During Hurricane Ida in the summer of 2021, floodwaters had poured into vents set inches above ground level. The water turned the auditorium into “an aquarium,” in the words of one teacher, and destroyed the heating and cooling systems, along with millions of dollars’ worth of computers and audiovisual equipment. The building was still unusable seven months later, with Covid-weary students having passed yet another year attending only part-time in person, in spaces borrowed from local churches. 

The struggles of that one school community are being repeated right now on a massive scale in developing countries like Pakistan, where schools serving more than 2 million children have been destroyed this year by catastrophic flooding.

Schools clearly aren’t ready for the changes to the climate that are already here. And it’s time they got ready, because our schools aren’t just threatened by climate — they’re also a key part of the solution. This month’s Conference of the Parties, or COP 27, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the United Nations’ annual “let’s not burn the planet” gathering, has a brand-new focus on education. The goal: making pre-K through higher education all around the world climate-ready — the buildings, yes, but also the curricula, the teachers and, of course, the students.  

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