Rhode Island State House

Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) has introduced a resolution requesting that Rhode Island public schools incorporate environment and climate literacy into school curricula to ensure that young Rhode Islanders understand the environmental challenges they will face in their lifetime.

The idea was a recommendation of “Resilient Rhody,” the statewide climate resilience action strategy created as a result of an executive order signed by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo in 2017.

The resolution asks public schools to offer courses in climate and environmental literacy, and also asks the Department of Education to develop a set of key environmental and climate principals that can be incorporated into existing curricula in any subjects.

“The students of today are going to be the next generation of stewards of this earth. They are inheriting a planet that needs help, and a state that is being significantly impacted by sea level rise. It’s imperative that they are provided accurate scientific information about climate change and that they understand what it means for their future,” said Representative Cortvriend in a press release. “Kids are also some of the greatest ambassadors for messages about protecting the earth. When kids learn about the necessity of reducing our impacts, they are willing to make change and ask their families to do the same. Making sure they all learn about how real and serious climate change is will have an impact here and now as well as when they grow up.”

The vast majority of climate scientists — 97 percent — agree that human activities have contributed to global warming. But, as the resolution states, only 30 percent of middle school science teachers and 45 percent of high school science teachers are aware of the extent of that scientific consensus. Politics that have become associated with the topic may leave some teachers hesitant about bringing up the subject in class.

But future generations must grasp the extent of the problem to understand that they must address it and to develop the ways to do so, and learning about it in school from an early age is critical, said Representative Cortvriend.

Representative Cortvriend developed her legislation to meet the recommendation of the Resilient Rhody strategy, which called for expanding K-12 education on environmental literacy, including climate-related emergency preparedness, by developing resources for school use and identifying how these concepts can be incorporated into existing state standards.

The resolution (2019-H 5563) is cosponsored by Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown), Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich). It is before the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee, which held a hearing on it March 27.

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