opinion Newport Rhode Island

In an era of increasing climate challenges, education, legislation, and environmental justice are crucial components of a sustainable and resilient future. At the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association (RIEEA), we believe ensuring resilience requires investment in training and education for young Rhode Islanders. As such, we stand in strong support of the current Climate Change and Ocean Protection Workforce Development & Education Program bills (S-551 & S-558 and  H-6105 & H-6106) currently up for consideration in the Rhode Island legislature. 

We believe these bills are a crucial step forward in protecting our environment, promoting social equity, and preparing our state for the challenges of climate change. This support reaches across our diverse membership, with 52 local organizations signed on to our letter of support, and over 250 individuals signed on to our petition in support of these bills.

As the Ocean State, Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and ocean acidification. These threats pose significant risks to our state’s economy, environment, and public health. Furthermore, climate change disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color, who are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental degradation.These threats pose significant risks to our state’s economy, as well as our environment and public health. Therefore, it is critical that we approve this funding to educate our youth about these issues and prepare our workforce for the challenges ahead. 

The proposed bills would set up a grant program so that educators in R.I. can work with experts on climate change and ocean protection. Educators want to teach about ocean protection and climate change, but many don’t feel prepared to do so. These bills set up a system to connect educators with experts in climate change literacy. Grants could fund both formal and K-12 school programs and out-of-school time learning, like career exploration, field experiences, marine science, environmental and social justice education, and career and technical education. We strongly believe such programs will better prepare Rhode Island’s youth to face our changing climate and changing economy. 

According to a recent report by the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center, the state’s maritime industry is expected to experience significant changes in the coming years due to climate change. These changes will require new skills and strategies for adaptation in order to maintain a strong and sustainable industry. By providing education and workforce development programs, we can prepare our youth and our state for the challenges ahead and ensure that R.I. remains a leader in the maritime industry.

The Climate Literacy and Ocean Protection Acts are also relevant to securing federal funding and support for climate education, environmental justice initiatives, and sustainable workforce development programs. These bills align with national priorities, specifically President Biden’s Ocean and Climate Action Plan. As the federal plan seeks to “foster partnerships focused on training the workforce needed to rapidly expand and maintain offshore wind energy and marine energy development,” there will be significant opportunities at the federal level to expand workforce development funding in this area. In passing these bills and funding these partnerships, Rhode Island can serve as an example for the rest of the country in what it means to prepare our citizens and create a more climate-resilient future. 

In addition, the bills will promote environmental justice by requiring that at least 40% of grant funds go to environmental justice communities. This again aligns with federal priorities for expanding environmental equity nationally and will help to ensure that all Rhode Islanders have more equal access to the benefits of a sustainable and resilient economy. By showcasing Rhode Island’s commitment to the intersecting issues of climate change, environmental justice, workforce development, and ocean protection, the state positions itself as a strong contender for federal grants, partnerships, and collaborative initiatives that can further enhance its efforts and amplify their impact.

We strongly urge the passing of these bills. It is critical that we take action now to create programs that protect our environment, promote social equity, and prepare our state for the challenges of a changing climate. To learn more, visit our website at www.rieea.org.

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