Students and activists participate in a climate change "strike" on March 15, 2019 in Chicago

Students and activists participate in a climate change "strike" on March 15, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The strike was part of an international student movement to draw attention to climate change. Similar strikes are scheduled to take place in more than 100 countries today.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Educators Are Standing Up for Healthy Green Schools and a Livable Climate This Earth Week

The pathway to a Green New Deal for Education runs through teachers, school leaders, students, and organized communities willing to embrace a bold vision for learning and a more sustainable future.

The Earth is burning, and our schools are crumbling. Investments in healthy, sustainable, green schools can help solve both problems.

As a result of human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, generated primarily by the combustion of fossil fuels, the global climate is now about 1°C (nearly 2°F) warmer than the historical climate in which modern civilization emerged. Every amount of GHG emitted into the atmosphere worsens the global climate crisis, leading to real and increasingly measurable risks to human and ecosystem health, to the economy, and to global security. Predominantly Black and Brown communities and economically disadvantaged communities are at the frontlines of the impacts of the crisis.

At the same time, our nation’s public schools are drastically in need of improvements. According to the Aspen Institute, there are nearly 100,000 public schools in the U.S. They are, on average, 50 years old and emit 78 million metric tons of CO2 per year at an energy cost of about $8 billion annually. Investments in school infrastructure and climate mitigation, including the replacement of outdated and ineffective heating and cooling systems, improvements to ventilation and insulation, the installation of rooftop solar, and the remediation of asbestos, lead, and mold will not only improve the school environment for students and staff, but will also address historical injustices along the lines of race and class. These investments will also contribute to stabilizing the Earth’s climate.

That's why this Earth Week (April 17-22), students, educators, parents, school staff, and community members around the U.S. are taking action to demand healthy, green schools now.

Educators in locals like the Chicago Teachers Union, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the New Jersey Education Association in Atlantic County, and New York’s United Federation of Teachers passed resolutions demanding action plans from their districts for green, healthy, fully-resourced community schools, prioritizing racial justice and disadvantaged communities. Educators across the country will be taking action during the week in a variety of ways.

This Earth Week, students, educators, parents, school staff, and community members around the U.S. are taking action to demand healthy, green schools now.

In the Seattle Education Association, educators will fight to expand on their recent victory of a nearly $20 million bond levy to make green, healthy retrofits to Seattle public schools, creating good union jobs and pathways to those jobs for students. Minneapolis educators will fight against the nearby Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, which creates large amounts of toxic air pollution and carbon emissions by burning garbage within a low-income community of color. Some educators from the Educators Climate Action Network (ECAN), the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and United Teachers Los Angeles, will be teaching lessons on the climate crisis and climate justice to their students in the classroom. Members of the Oakland Education Association will be participating in a community cleanup with the Alameda Labor Council.

The Chicago Teachers Union, Climate Justice Committee, launched a multidisciplinary program with educators and community members earlier in the year and has been building momentum and skills to engage in environmental justice action. For example, leading to Earth Day, twenty K-12 educators from all across Chicago enrolled in the Teaching Climate Justice Through Interdisciplinary Learning professional development class co-taught by a Fine Arts teacher and Environmental Science teacher to develop climate justice lesson plans for the Earth Week of Action. On Earth Day, Chicago Teachers Union members, in collaboration with Chicago Bike Grid Now organizers, plan to engage in a Pedal for the Planet event to educate and advocate for collective demands such as safer bike infrastructure and funding for healthy, green, sustainable community schools.

Going beyond the week of action, the United Teachers of Los Angeles have proposed an entire article on healthy green schools during their contract negotiations this year. The demands include climate literacy curricula, a green jobs study, a green school plan, including conversion to electric buses and renewable energy systems, and clean water, free from lead and other toxins. And the Boston Teachers Union has fought hard both to get a Green New Deal for Public Schools on the agenda with the city’s mayor and to ensure a meaningful seat at the table for the union as the plan moves forward.

Taken together, these actions represent a growing movement of educators across the U.S. seizing the moment to realize healthy green schools and make a Green New Deal for Education. We hope you will join us during this Earth Week to demand healthy green schools for our students and communities. You can join the Educators Climate Action Network to learn more and get involved. Together we can save the world, one school at a time.

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