Climate literacy initiative strives to ignite youth engagement


Annelise Schouten

On November 3, 2021, the climate literacy resolution was passed unanimously by the Berkeley Unified School District School Board. According to the final draft of the resolution, BUSD was committed to graduating “students well-versed in climate change science, issues, and solutions.”

The climate literacy resolution is an initiative to ensure all BUSD students are educated on and can recognize the impacts of climate change. 

“Our goal is to already start planning the curriculum to implement by the end of the year in May,” said BUSD School Board Director, Laura Babbitt. “Next year, we’re going to start to pilot different pieces of the curriculum, so I would say hopefully by the 2023-2024 school year, you could start seeing this in your daily life at school.”

According to Berkeley High School senior Ella Suring, the climate literacy initiative is for all students across all grade levels, and it will be interdisciplinary and holistic, meaning it will create more time for students and teachers to have a focused time to learn and talk about climate change.

Aryn Faur, a BHS English teacher, further mentioned that BHS expects to have the initiative fully developed and the curriculum completely finalized by the end of June, 2023. Though Faur doesn’t expect there to be a full curriculum map soon, teachers will start to have regular meetings to discuss what it may look like. 

In addition, BHS students are having a climate summit on October 12. 

With the climate literacy initiative, courses at BHS would align with permaculture, a process which involves sustainable food farming with aspects such as plant diversity and environmental studies. 

“We want the climate literacy initiative to be very holistic in the sense that it’s going to be for everyone, regardless of grade level, what classes you’re interested in, etc. It wouldn’t be just taught in math classes or science classes. … It’ll be (included in) English classes and history,” Faur said. “We want it to be a focus on environmental justice specifically and how it relates to all these other issues.” 

Erin Smith, a BHS biology teacher, hopes to gain more knowledge about what students care about and where they want to take their future action around climate change and eco-literacy. She wants to connect students who are passionate about climate action with resources that will amplify their voices around climate justice. 

“We’re hoping to have an influence on students’ daily lives, meaning (in class) maybe you’re writing a letter to a representative, maybe you are learning about different forms of civic action and protests,” Smith said. “Maybe you are designing invasive species removal, it could look different depending on what class you’re in. The key thing is that in all the curriculum, students are going to have agency to make changes that they want to change in their community.” 

In all the curriculum, students are going to have agency to make changes that they want to change in their community.

Erin Smith, BHS biology teacher

According to Babitt, the goal of the climate literacy initiative is to change the way people think about their impact when it comes to climate change related issues, such as using a plastic bottle versus a reusable one.

If students understand the impact of climate change on the environment, they can learn and use their own ingenuity to combat the increasingly warming climate.

“You have to understand what the problem is, which is the first step, and then you have to understand what you can do, or what we as a society can do to address the problem,” former teacher at Longfellow Middle School and developer of the climate initiative Martha Cain said. “It’s really important for students to be climate literate so that they see the problems and begin to think about what they can do to help solve the problem.” 

Babitt desires to see students have the ability to shift from being anxious to feeling empowered. 

She believes through the initiative, students will take control and understand their actions. By learning the important skills of decision making now, she said that students will achieve greatness in the future for themselves and their community.

It’s really important for students to be climate literate so that they see the problems and begin to think about what they can do to help.

Martha Cain, former Longfellow Middle School teacher

“From what companies manufacture and how we manufacture, where we put our plants and the kinds of emissions we put into the air. … It means so much to human health disparities and life in general. It’s impacting your socioeconomic status when you’re battling health imperatives and you have less access to quality work that you can keep and maintain,” Babitt said. “What I hope people will learn is how climate change and literacy is what really is having a ripple effect on all the major industries in our world. From healthcare, to auto industries, to the food industries, to the clothing industries, everything is connected.”