This week marked a historic day for our nation. The 3rdNational Climate Assessment (NCA), a report four years in the making and commissioned by Congress, was released this Tuesday, May 6th. The report, focusing its more than 800 pages exclusively on the United States, is an extensive look at climate change, its impacts and the possible responses. Even at first glance, this report is different. It doesn’t focus on far off, abstract climate change consequences, but instead, speaks in the present. It highlights the current climate-influenced drought in California, the surge of extreme downpours happening in the Northeast and Midwest, and oceans that are more acidic with each passing day.
Climate change is no longer a thing of the distant future for others to worry about. It’s happening right now and it’s affecting all of us. The American dream is at risk, with climate change threatening human health, economic resilience and even our freedom to live where we want to live.
The problem will be exponentially worse by the time our nation’s high school students are in their fifties, that is, if we choose to sit idly by the wayside and do nothing. At ACE, we see a key opportunity to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, prepare the public for the impacts already upon us, and unleash a generation of Americans that are ready to face a climate-altered nation with remarkable resilience. This opportunity coalesces around education.
The ACE Assembly is an undeniably inspiring look at the science behind climate change and a glimpse at the generational shift needed to create lasting solutions. It’s a fundamental primer for high school students to begin to wrap their arms around an issue of the magnitude of climate change.
And now, there’s a tool embodied in the NCA that goes deeper, while still meeting the needs of millennials and digital natives. In my experience, stuffy government-commissioned reports that speak in jargon and lack mass appeal aren’t what we need to ignite a real national conversation on climate action. However, the NCA is a horse of a different color.
How do I know? Twelve ACE youth leaders from around the country joined a call from the White House on Tuesday to offer their insights and questions to the national conversation emerging around how to best use the NCA as a learning tool. Instead of guessing what young people need, the hosts of the White House call, NOAA, NCSE and the U.S. Global Change Research Program, were interested in hearing directly from young people about what they need to use the NCA as a tool to promote climate literacy with their peers.
One ACE leader, Isaac Lutz from North Carolina, offered that, “The mobile site was much easier to navigate than the website.” Natasha Anbalagan, another ACE leader from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, added to the conversation saying, “I got the impression that some kind of ‘how to’ guide would be helpful for students in the beginning stages, showing them where to start reading first and how to move through the website.” The call moderator responded saying, “We’ve created an FAQ section. It’s probably a bit buried right now but I think this addresses some of that. Also, the website tool guide is in the works and something we can continue to work on.” Another leader, Robert Young from Washington D.C. asked, “There are a lot of opportunities to share the website through Facebook or twitter--you can share different sections or pages. What do you see as the interface or ways that you imagine people to use social media tools?” The call moderator invited deeper conversation, asking, “We’d be interested to hear from your perspective--what ways do you think youth would be interested in using social media to share info on the site?”
These types of multi-generational, cross-sector conversations are exactly what we need to think big when it comes to climate preparedness. For the first time, it seems that youth are being invited into conversations where they’ve often been forgotten--but are desperately needed.
This call was just the beginning. The organizations involved in facilitating this initial conversation have asked ACE youth to be key stakeholders in doing a more in-depth analysis of the report, its social media viability, and its potential as a peer-to-peer learning tool. To me, this is a perfect example of great organizations leading the way in making “the table” bigger and more inclusive—offering a seat to youth where they’ve typically had none.
Several of the youth leaders that participated have already expressed their interest in being part of this ongoing effort.