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An Open Letter to the New Education Secretary

WASHINGTON - Worldwatch is pleased to publish this open letter from prominent
education and environment leaders urging the newly nominated U.S.
education secretary, Arne Duncan, to consider the importance of
education in carrying out President-elect Barack Obama's environmental

Dear Mr. Duncan:

Congratulations on your nomination. As you jump into the daunting
challenge of bolstering our sagging education system, you have a
powerful opportunity presented by the need to create a carbon-free

President-elect Obama has astutely perceived the linkages between
climate change, economic stimulus, energy security, and job training by
declaring that the transition to a green economy is his "top priority."
The missing link in this system is the critical role that education can
play in quickly making the green economy a reality. By working with him
to include a major role for education in his green economy plans,
you'll help advance his agenda - and yours. 

Transforming our nation's economic, energy, and environmental systems
to move toward a green economy will require a level of expertise,
innovation, and cooperative effort unseen since the 1940s to meet the
challenges involved.

Creating millions of new green jobs through targeted investment and
spending is one thing; filling those jobs with qualified candidates is
quite another thing. This transition will require a massive job training (and retraining) effort on the part of business, government, and education if it is to scale up quickly.

But green manufacturing workforce development programs are just one piece of what is needed; the green economy will not be driven by manufacturing workers alone.
Architects, engineers, planners, scientists, business managers,
financial experts, lawyers, entrepreneurs, political leaders, resource
managers, and many others, as well as workers - not to mention
environmentally literate consumers - will all be needed to drive the
green economy.


American workers, managers, and professionals at all levels and
in all sectors must understand the foundations of a green economy as
represented in leading environmental and sustainability education
These foundations call for redesigning the human
economy to emulate nature: operating on renewable energy, creating a
circular production economy in which the concept of ‘"waste" is
eliminated because all waste products are raw materials or nutrients
for the industrial economy, and managing human activities in a way that
uses natural resources only at the rate that they can self-regenerate
(the ideas embodied in sustainable forestry, fishing, and agriculture).

To produce such a literate workforce and citizenry, America will need to make major new investments in our educational systems to implement the green economy and keep new green jobs from migrating out of America.

It has been well proven that an investment in education and
innovation - in human capital - is without a doubt the best investment
that can be made in long-term, across-the-board economic growth.
1 Public
investments in education for a green economy will more than pay for
themselves, just as the post-Sputnik education programs did in the
1950s and ‘60s and the G.I. Bill did in the 1940s.2

In addition, "Education for a Green Economy" is a politically unifying strategy:

  • A serious commitment to global competitiveness and
    innovation appeals to a wide range of stakeholders: Americans concerned
    with security and energy independence, economic development, climate
    change, and the environment; blue-collar workers and citizens calling
    for increasing investment in new "green jobs"; parents, students, and
    teachers; clean technology and green venture capital firms; and the
    academic community.
  • Recent legislation authorizing investments to support
    sustainability programs in higher education, improve education in STEM
    fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and build
    healthy, high performance "green schools" (both K-12 and higher
    education) have passed with broad bipartisan support, but have yet to
    be significantly funded.

We, the undersigned, therefore respectfully urge you to support the
following proposed Presidential agenda as it pertains to your

An Action Agenda for a Healthy, Just, and Sustainable Economy

  The President should announce a sweeping initiative to support education as a cornerstone of our new clean energy future.
This initiative should be part of an economic stimulus package with a
focus on green jobs and green education to help Americans of all ages,
all backgrounds, and all walks of life transition to the green economy.

  The President should launch a series of White House Conferences on Creating Healthier, Greener Communities and Economies.
Conference themes, co-sponsored with key federal agencies, would focus
on building a more equitable and green economy, promote social equity,
and support service learning to engage youth in greening local

•  Support a national goal of 100% of renovation and new school construction to meet "Green Schools" Standards by 2012.
Declare a Department of Education policy to support a national goal
that 100 percent of newly constructed or rehabilitated schools (both
K-12 and higher education) to become "Green Schools" to lower energy
costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and provide opportunities for
formal and non-formal environmental education.

•  Support legislation to direct 1% of climate change cap-and-trade revenues to education for a green economy.
This comprehensive education bill would advance education for a green
economy through major adjustments to K-12 education, school-to-work
programs, higher education, professional re-education, and consumer and
public education, in order to equip our American workforce and
citizenry with the needed skills and knowledge to maximize
environmental and economic gains in the transition to a green economy.
Related legislation to significantly expand and improve environmental
education in our public K-12 schools (the No Child Left Behind Act)
should also be supported.

•  Establish a strong record of funding existing education programs
through the President's budget requests for the University
Sustainability Program, environmental education programs at the
Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation and
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the new Energy
Efficiency Grants and Loans program at the Department of Energy.

•  Make new Administration appointments:  

a. Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Education, Education for a Green Economy

b. Senior Policy Advisor to the NOAA Administrator, Climate Change Education

c. Environmental Education Advisor, Council of Environmental Quality

d. Senior Policy Advisor to the Director of the US Peace Corps, Sustainability and Environmental Education

•  Direct all federal resources agencies to
develop and conduct "education for a green economy" and climate change
literacy training
for all personnel to familiarize them with challenges, needs, and appropriate responses for each agency.

One of the most hopeful signs for the future is the rapidly developing
consensus that investment in a clean/green economy is the best way to
improve national security, create millions of jobs, restore U.S.
economic leadership, and stop large-scale climate disruption that could
undercut modern civilization. It is time to reorient the education
system to make this a reality-humanity is depending on us.

With our best wishes for your success,

David E. Blockstein, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, National Council for Science and the Environment

Judy Braus, Senior Vice President of Education, National Audubon Society

Antony D. Cortese, Sc.D., President, Second Nature

Kevin J. Coyle, Vice President for Education, National Wildlife Federation

Brian A. Day, Executive Director, North American Association for Environmental Education

James L Elder, Ph.D., Director, Campaign for Environmental Literacy

Christopher Flavin, President, Worldwatch Institute

Judy Walton, Ph.D., Acting Executive Director, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education 



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The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization recognized by opinion leaders around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Its mission is to generate and promote insights and ideas that empower decision makers to build an ecologically sustainable society that meets human needs.

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