Opinion: NYers Must Prioritize Educating Kids about the Climate Crisis

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Pamela Andrade, Daria Devyatkina,

Destruction from Superstorm Sandy and last year's California wildfires. Climate change will likely make disasters like those more common, and there is growing evidence that time is running out for any hope of even mitigating those risks.

Last weekend in New York City, the heat index, or the measure of how hot it feels when humidity is factored in with air temperature, reached 110 degrees. OZY Fest in Central Park and the New York Triathlon were cancelled, and nearly 50,000 people lost electricity as the oppressive heat wave wracked the city.

The sweltering heat wasn’t confined to the five boroughs. Two-thirds of the United States cooked over the weekend, and Earth had its hottest June on record. Not surprisingly, we are on track for the warmest July, according to new data released by NASA. 

With climate change posing an existential threat by 2050, extreme temperatures far more intense than the stifling heat set to descend upon the city are imminent, as are rising seas sure to inundate New York’s 500 miles of coastline.

One of our top priorities should be educating the very people who will face the intensifying consequences – our kids. The future of our city’s coastlines, parks, and forests – valuable resources that help mitigate the impact of climate change – depends on their recognition and understanding of how humans impact the urban environment.

Before the climate crisis advances further, there are small steps we can all take toward stopping it.  Get outside with your family to immerse your kids in our city’s natural areas. Take advantage of educational programs for kids and service opportunities in our city’s forests, gardens, wetlands or other green spaces to help learn about and preserve these critical natural resources.  

To be sure, New York City should be lauded as a trailblazer in its efforts to combat climate change. Last month we became the nation’s largest city to declare a climate emergency when the City Council called for “an immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate.” The city recently mandated that the owners of its largest buildings slash their emissions impact, and ambitious new legislation requires the state to eliminate almost all greenhouse gas output by 2050, with all electricity coming from carbon-free sources.

All of these actions are praiseworthy, but they are only the first step. We need to focus on making sure the next generation of New Yorkers understands the real threat climate change poses to our city and planet.

In creating advocates passionate about the natural world, positive experiences outdoors and in the environment are essential. For five years, I’ve worked at the City Parks Foundation (CPF), a nonprofit dedicated to activating our city’s public green spaces. When most teachers struggle to squeeze new content about climate change into their already packed curricula, and fewer than half of parents have discussed the issue with their children (hopefully not you after reading this), programs like CPF’s Seeds to Trees, Learning Gardens, Green Girls and Coastal Classroom programs are imperative.

Through these science-based educational programs, children can learn through hands-on experiences that New York City parks provide benefits for them to thrive as humans. When a child sees trees on their street in Brooklyn, they can begin to understand how they are more than something green to look at. They absorb carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), provide shade to cool our streets and buildings, transpire or release moisture (much as we perspire) contributing to our natural water cycle, and make our city more beautiful. 

When children learn how nature betters their everyday lives, interest translates into action to address their own contributions to climate change. Advocacy and a desire to steward starts with a personal relationship, so get outside together to get to know NYC’s parks. You’ll likely be surprised at the wildlife and beauty you observe in the forests of Pelham Bay and Inwood Hill Parks, the shoreline at Kaiser Park, the saltwater marsh at Marine Park or the recently established meadow at Brooklyn Bridge Park. I could go on.

Sign up for service projects with programs like NYC Parks Stewardship, Partnerships for Parks and the Natural Areas Conservancy. As a family, research citywide efforts to increase our natural areas for all New Yorkers through the NYC Nature Goals 2050 and how kids can play a part in sustainability through the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Sustainability.

Children can learn to mitigate their own daily behaviors that contribute to the climate crisis and advocate for the preservation of the environment as long as we give them the tools to do so. With your encouragement, they will become savvy stewards of our big “green” apple. 

Chrissy Word is Director of Education at the City Parks Foundation (CPF), a nonprofit dedicated to invigorating and transforming parks into dynamic, vibrant centers of urban life through sports, arts, community building and education programs for all New Yorkers.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, CPF programs in more than 400 parks, recreation centers and public schools across New York City and reaches 300,000 people each year. Learn more at www.cityparksfoundation.org.

One thought on “Opinion: NYers Must Prioritize Educating Kids about the Climate Crisis

  1. Thank you for writing about his critical topic. As a science teacher at Brooklyn Collaborative Studies, I teach a full-year core class on climate change because I know that my students’ present is and future will be shaped by climate change and how we as a species adapt and mitigate.

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