Venice High School students Evelyn Lamond, 15, left, and Chaya Forman, 15, rally in a climate change protest in Pershing Square in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Downtown Magnets High School

Opinion: LAUSD should require students to take a climate course to graduate

Climate change. Global warming.

Two words, one indisputable meaning, one unequivocal outcome: the destruction of our home.

Yet, despite common belief, the climate crisis is not a new threat whatsoever. In fact, oil companies knew about climate change and how gas contributed to climate change as early as the late 1970s. Unfortunately, because of the lack of meaningful action, the fight against climate change now lies in the hands of the current and subsequent generations, starting with generation Z. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second-largest public school district in the United States with about 600,000 students. But, despite its size and widespread reach, LAUSD has been light-handed when it comes to the climate education and learning opportunities they offer.

LAUSD does offer educational opportunities surrounding climate change and some climate curriculum within science classes. It should though be a formal graduation requirement to take at least one science class that covers climate change. This would ensure the future generations a formal education about it.

If students do learn about the crisis they’re inherited, it will reduce the likelihood of them becoming climate change deniers while increasing the likelihood of making progress in the fight against climate change. 

On March 28, 2019, the UN declared that there are 11 years until climate change creates irreversible damage. But, despite the science, facts and statistics that climate change is real and that it is happening now, there are still people who don’t believe it is.

A journal published in 2014 titled the Ideology of Climate Change Denial in the United States found Americans who deny climate change have been successful in confusing the public and delaying action. Which in fact, proved to be true two years later when under the Trump administration the U.S. government scientists revealed there was a “striking disconnect between President Donald Trump and essentially every authoritative institution on the threat of global warming,” according to Inside Climate News

Instead of considering the facts Inside Climate News reported President Trump rejected the findings of the scientists, which showed “emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities.” And, that he responded only by saying, repeatedly, that he didn’t believe it. 

Furthermore, Donald Trump delayed national or international action that may have begun to mitigate the effects of climate change during his four-year term.

For instance, after the aforementioned, National Climate Assessment was released, his cabinet, according to Inside Climate News, was quick to act. They quickly attacked the report, painting it as “alarmist,” and sticking to Trump’s agenda of fossil fuel energy expansion which science says poses problems.

Which in itself is a whole separate contributor to climate change on its own. That traditional capitalist mindset is prioritizing money over the environment and eventually, it will lead us to simply not have a planet anymore.

Moreover, Trump delayed international action against climate change most prominently when he pulled the U.S of the Paris Climate Accord in late 2020.

But, Trump did more than simply buffer decisive action during his presidency, he was also remarkably successful in confusing public opinion in regards to global warming by calling it a hoax and stating it was untrue. His remarks and beliefs about climate change became the mold for republican beliefs concerning climate change.

So, while Trump fanned the flames of climate denial he also was able to simultaneously make the line between Republicans and Democrats more rigid.

According to The Atlantic, disagreement between Republican and Democratic voters has intensified in recent years, especially during the first year of President Trump’s tenure. 

During his administration, political tensions and polarization heightened, to the extent that the term climate change denier became synonymous with Republican. And, in fear of being categorized as a democrat, a liberal and radical thinker, most republicans prefer to deny science.      

In light of all of this, it is now the time for decisive action. It is no longer the time for half-hearted developments from politicians looking to periodically silence the people. It is time for aggressive action in every aspect of life because to combat this existential threat, we’re going to need everyone to join the fight.

This is what President Joe Biden has shown in his first 100 days of presidency. Unlike former President Trump, President Biden does not exhibit traits of climate denialism and is not looking for active support from environment-damaging corporations, which were barring Trump from making any progress in the climate realm. According to an official fact sheet released by the White House, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement on his first day in office. 

This was momentous in this fight against climate change since it meant the United States had to not only speak but act and actively seek to regain the trust of nations internationally and make steps towards a cleaner future. In April, Biden held a summit with 40 world leaders to announce the U.S. will target reducing emissions by half before 2030. 

The announcement was a major stepping stone in the fight against climate change. Not only is the president of the United States openly acknowledging the existence of this crisis, but he is also taking immediate action to mitigate its effects by cutting the carbon emissions of the U.S drastically. Both of which were not seen during the last presidential term.

Over recent years, activism has been a notable trait in young people. Whether it’s social activism or environmental activism, the youth hold the power to change the trajectory of the next decade. Young people from across the globe have made it known that they are not to be silenced, making it hard to tell who will be the next Greta Thunberg.

But, if the next generation, the one currently in high school, holds such promise for change, why has LAUSD failed to make it a formal graduation requirement to take at least one science class that covers climate change?  After all, knowledge is power and we will need educated leaders to fight the existential crisis Gen Z is inheriting.

According to the LAUSD Education and awareness initiatives surrounding climate change, the current goals are to merely raise awareness, develop partnerships, and encourage and celebrate climate exchange.

According to NASA, the global temperature is rising at a “rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.”

With the Arctic melting, it is no longer the time for light-handed action or lack thereof, which often stems from the fear of undergoing a lengthy process to create requirements like this one.

But, we need to ensure that the next generation of leaders will learn formally about climate change in high school. Therefore, they can go on to develop new forms of sustainability and we can collectively make strides in the fight against climate change because investing in good education will yield great results.

For instance, according to Education International, in 2012 Finland committed to investing money into good, quality education for students which in turn, resulted in high student performance and attracted their best minds for progress and development.

It shows why it’s important to teach students not only about climate change but also what they can accomplish within the field in green jobs. Whether it be developing new technologies, researching renewable energies or working for companies that prioritize the health and wellbeing of the environment. Just by teaching about climate change, new doors may be opened for students who may want to pursue a green job to help save the planet and do something about it. 

Learning formally about climate change will reduce the chances of the next generations becoming climate change deniers. Getting information from a teacher, in a school where most of the time subjects are taught objectively, is by far a better environment for students to learn about climate change.

In this time, the internet has democratized information, made it accessible to all. However, not all of the information on the internet is credible. Unless students know how to filter out through the “.com” websites, they’ll be lost in an abyss of misinformation.

But, having a formal, objective and unbiased education about what climate change is will reduce the risk of having a new batch of climate change deniers, especially when it is so essential for them to believe. 

Yet, the opposition may say that a formal requirement regarding climate education will prove useless because they believe that climate change, allegedly, does not exist. And, as aforementioned, denialism surrounding global warming effectively delays much-needed change to students’ educational curriculum and requirements.

According to the National Center for Science Education, a highly politicized state board of education revised the benchmark for Earth and Space Science. They went from “analyze the changes in Earth’s atmosphere through time” to “analyze the changes in Earth’s atmosphere that could have occurred through time.” The board also added a benchmark for Environmental Systems requiring students to “[a]nalyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming.”

Remarks and beliefs like that, especially from people in power, have caused a strong buffer in the progress of climate education. They don’t believe in it and are not only openly expressing their views about something that has research, facts and evidence but have effectively stalled climate education, for too long.

A requirement like the one I’m proposing is something within the realm of “radicalism” if taking into consideration the political polarization in the current climate. Most of the stalling, the inactivity, the lack of action is caused because there clearly two very different opinions about climate change. Some belief in the fact, that believes in science and believe that humans have created the crisis we are facing and are willing to take responsibility for it and some think that it’s politically motivated and overhyped.

But, despite what the opposition deems to be true, evidence that the climate crisis is real is all around us. Natural disasters keep happening; harder to extinguish wildfires, stronger hurricanes and droughts. If they do not believe the science, then believe in what is happening.

According to the law of conservation of energy, climate change will cause one side of the world to be hot while the other is extremely cold. This, in fact,  is exactly what is happening in the world right now with extremely hot summers and extremely cold winters.

And if that’s not convincing enough, take a look at what happened in Texas with the polar vortex recently. That was climate change at work and even though we still have 11 years before the damage becomes irreversible, we’re already feeling the effects.

Climate change is real and the next generation needs to be guaranteed the opportunity to learn about the crisis. Therefore, they can be part of the solution and be the people who will save the planet from utter destruction, as well as guarantee a home for future generations of people and wildlife on this planet. 

A formal requirement like this is so important because while climate change deniers bathe in the pool of ignorant bliss, natural disasters keep happening because of man’s impact on the environment. Impacts that began since industrialization in the 1900s and continue happening now, despite the science.

Fossil fuel extraction, single-use plastic production, deforestation — the list goes on.

So, to all of the climate change deniers, look around. We need change, aggressive change that will help us progress. Making it more important for LAUSD to make it a formal requirement for students to take a class that talks about climate change. Teachers are then obliged to talk about it regardless of their political stance because the climate denialism caused by years of misinformation is deeper than most believe.

Classrooms do often teach about climate change through NGSS standards that make up curriculum requirements. However, there is still a chance for students to not learn about climate change in the classroom. It comes down to the teacher’s own personal opinion and choice on whether to teach climate change objectively or even at all.  

A requirement like this one may not only shine the light on the importance of change in the environmental realm but also help students and teachers alike realize that climate change is real and something that should be believed in. Some might say that the evidence is “a bunch of hooey” but it’s there. It’s scientifically gathered reliable evidence that proves the existence of the climate crisis.

And, the sooner that the future generation realizes this, the sooner they will realize that it’s their turn to make the change. It will open the door into a whole new field for a future career. Maybe they’ll even end up with a green job.

Being faced with the facts will impede the next generation, the one so important in the fight for climate change, from falling into the pool of ignorant bliss. 

Setting a formal requirement like this one doesn’t require much effort especially when taking into consideration that “in schools that use the Next Generation Science Standards, students spend up to 30% of their science classes learning about climate change,” according to the Outside.

It’s a unit covered by those teachers that do believe in climate change and includes learning about combustion reactions, the greenhouse gas effect, ocean acidification and the law of conservation of mass. The thing that is of utmost importance to the understanding of climate change.

The only downside is that the Next Generation Science Standards are just that, standards. Ones that can be ignored if teachers like the school board chair believe that the evidence is a bunch of hooey.

Additionally, NPR reported in 2017 that more than 80% of parents support the teaching of climate change in the U.S. Similarly, 86% of teachers agree climate change should be taught too.

So, if parents want it, teachers want it and it would guarantee students the education they need to face climate change, why not do it?

Dear Los Angeles Unified School District board, at least for those who believe in climate change, what do you think about making it a formal requirement for students to take at least one class that covers climate change before graduation?

The future of humanity depends on it. The clock is ticking, quite literally.

Have courage, the process is lengthy and there will be obstacles in the way, especially those manufactured by the deniers who don’t believe but, the outcome, the progress, and the hope for a better future will make it all worth it in the end.