The power plant in 17-year-old Johanni’s New York City neighborhood harms all residents, especially those with asthma and other respiratory problems. Audrey, age 9, lives in Miami and worries about marine plants and animals; she believes they are the best things in her hometown. Even 4-year-old Hazel of New York City understands the earth is in trouble.
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Caring about the environment and taking action don’t always go hand-in-hand. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll found 80 percent of parents and 86 percent of teachers in the United States want to see climate change taught in schools. Despite the support, 55 percent of teachers said they do not cover climate change in their classrooms mostly because it’s outside their subject area.
“Students and adults have been concerned for a long time,” Saskia Randle, Design and Curatorial Associate at The Climate Museum, says. “Many are aware of the problem. However, they don’t know how to take action. Their attitudes reflect how most of us think.”
That’s where The Climate Museum comes into play. The New York City art and science education hub offers interactive climate science programs for students of all ages throughout the country and beyond. It’s the first museum in the United States dedicated to teaching visitors about climate awareness and solutions.
From greenwashing to sea level rise and much more, The Climate Museum engages with students on how to take action. “I loved learning about ways I can positively affect my community and ignite change within my town,” Melina, age 16 and a resident of New Jersey, says. “Having the confidence to talk with others and spreading information has been a huge challenge of mine, but learning how to do that in this program was one of the best things I’ve learned. And just learning all these important skills is what I liked best about this program.”
Melina participates in the museum’s Climate Action Leadership Program designed for high school students. Students in the program learn about environmental issues and advocacy. They serve as docents at exhibitions, which occur throughout New York City.
Looking for a home
Exhibitions, held on Governor’s Island, in Washington Square Park, and in other New York City locations, draw wide audiences. Most happen upon them, such as posters hung in neighborhood parks and on buildings, storefronts, and even lampposts. Passersby notice, stop, and learn. Students in the Climate Action Leadership Program are on hand at these exhibits to discuss impacts and solutions, and they’re present to listen to the concerns of others.
The Climate Museum is currently looking for a permanent exhibition space in New York City.
Call it STEAM, not STEM
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is missing a topic, one that’s crucial to education. It’s Art.
Art plays a major role in calling attention to the climate crisis. These exhibitions are “designed to tempt passersby into discussing climate change and the role cities play in the problem and solutions,” Miranda Massie, the museum’s Director, explains.
Art exhibitions allow students and other visitors to examine the realities of climate change. Art events include spoken word performances by members of the museum’s Climate Action Leadership Program, a mural painting in the Bronx, and a citywide arts activity where participants decorate tiles to express what climate change means to them.
“A big component of the program is motivating action,” Maggie O’Donnell, Research and Program Associate at the museum, says. “The art draws them in and then you can see them get interested in the science. They come in thinking they want to become a climate scientist or work in a STEM related field and then learn there are many opportunities.”
Urgency of the climate crisis
Using art and science together works to peak a student’s interest. “Our events make climate science and solutions accessible to students,” O’Donnell says.
The museum reaches out to schools in New York City with its Ask A Scientist Day where climate science experts host climate workshops and help train teachers in climate change education.
Virtual workshops for all
The Climate Museum offers monthly workshops for students all over the world on YouTube. Everything from artists talking about climate art to climate inequality and health are covered. These presentations are free.
The Climate Virtual Volunteer Program lets students from all over the world connect online. “What’s nice is students from different places and backgrounds come together to share their experiences and what types of climate issues they are facing,” Randle says.
It’s not just New Yorkers. Students in California, Louisiana, Florida, and other parts of the country are signing up online to learn how they can get involved. “A few of our former high school students are sharing these programs with students on college campuses,” O’Donnell says.
Climate education makes an impact
According to an April 2020 study by Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication, 66 percent of American adults say they are worried about global warming, but only 5 percent talk about it. “The Climate Museum is changing that,” O’Donnell says. “People want to get involved.”
“Being able to plan an event in which my classmates and I would discuss climate issues, as well as having the opportunity to receive feedback from Climate Museum volunteers made me more confident in my ability to initiate dialogue,” Sarvagna, age 15 from New Jersey, says.
Mary, age 15 from Georgia, says, “I liked that I was given the time to collaborate with like-minded people my age. I live in an area with a good amount of climate change deniers, so it was nice to speak with people who advocate for climate change.”
A study in the journal PLOS ONE found if 16 percent of high school students in high- and middle-income countries received climate change education, it could greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Teaching students about climate change creates strong personal ties to issues students care about. It also empowers them and enables them to reduce their carbon footprint.
Reaching out to politicians
Once students feel comfortable with their climate topics, they reach out to their congressional leaders by writing letters. Younger students send drawings with climate change messages asking for help.
The Climate Museum has a section on its website to help with letter writing, phone calling, and drawing campaigns. It’s called Climate Art for Congress.