Blog post by Laura Gardner, Teacher Librarian at Dartmouth Middle School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts
As a school librarian who participates annually in Climate Prep Week and also as a climate activist in my personal life with Climate Reality Massachusetts Southcoast, I’m always thinking about ways I can amplify youth voices in the climate movement. In my own community and school, I’ve led discussions with students about the climate crisis and encouraged students to speak up about the change they’d like to see in the world. I consider it my duty as a Blue Marble Librarian to find ways to give youth a voice on the climate crisis given that they are inheriting the problem and it will impact their future so much.
One event where our Climate Reality chapter gave youth an opportunity to speak out was a brand audit/beach cleanup our group organized in June 2021. Mary Lou Nicholson from Be the Solution to Pollution, a personal friend and fellow Climate Reality leader, organized a Break Free from Plastic brand audit, which is a cool citizen science initiative anyone can do. We had 62 volunteers clean up Fort Phoenix beach in Fairhaven, separate items by brand and record all the data. After the event, we had speeches from four local youth about plastic and the climate crisis: one elementary school student (one of my own kids), two middle school students from my school, and a local college student from the Sunrise Movement. (Video here; speeches start at 2:20). One of the students, Annica, who spoke at that event went on to represent our group at a student panel following a public showing of I Am Greta. That same student has now been selected to be a part of Governor Maura Healy’s new Youth Climate Council and continues to participate in our chapter’s events including attending the NYC Climate March.
Climate Prep Week is another outstanding opportunity every year to let youth grapple with the problem of climate change, ask all their burning questions, and share their ideas. In my school library, Climate Prep Week is a voluntary lunch series held weeklong in the library with guest speakers, discussions, and book recommendations. This year we had three guest speakers including a marine scientist from UMass Dartmouth. Our guest speakers were impressed with the depth of knowledge of our students and the strong interest in learning about local impacts of climate change, as well as potential solutions. We had over 50 students participate and as a follow up event we hosted an evening screening of Microplastic Madness to begin the conversation about why we need to reduce single use plastics in our cafeteria.
Now we all have an extraordinary opportunity to be allies to young people who are climate activists. Youth from Massachusetts Youth Climate Coalition, in coordination with Eben Bein at Our Climate, have written a climate justice bill that recently was part of a hearing at the state house here in Massachusetts. House bill 496, An Act implementing elementary and secondary interdisciplinary climate justice education across the Commonwealth, would prioritize climate justice and civics education in schools across Massachusetts. It would give kids and teens the tools to advocate for changes at the local, state, and federal level. As Jonathan Lan stated in his written testimony in favor of the bill, working with Our Climate has “given me the very opportunity to sit in this room and speak here today, the tools to lead sustainability initiatives in the Weston community, and most importantly, a sense of control over this crisis.”
Would you like to learn more about the climate justice education bill and help advocate for the bill? Massachusetts Youth Climate Coalition, Our Climate, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and Climate Reality Massachusetts Southcoast are co-hosting a webinar on Wednesday, November 1 at 7 PM to hear from the youth themselves. It will be an all youth panel about how we can win climate justice education here in Massachusetts. Everyone is welcome to attend; please help spread the word! You can register at https://tinyurl.com/youthbill23
I believe that encouraging youth voices in the climate movement is critical. I have dedicated my life to the empowerment of youth through my school library. I believe that civics education is an important part of my job in helping all my students become active and engaged citizens. I am also a parent myself and a fellow human who recognizes that the best antidote to the climate anxiety so many of us have is action. Let’s help more youth in our state get the education they need to advocate for the change they want to see.