THE INDEPENDENT AND SOVEREIGN Republic of Kiribati has bought land in Fiji, another island nation in the Pacific Ocean. Kiribati is less than 20 feet above sea level and some parts are already submerged, with the situation expected to get worse as climate change progresses. Reportedly Kiribati wants to use its Fiji land to grow food when there’s not enough agricultural land left in Kiribati to support the country’s population.
Counting all its 33 islands, Kiribati is half the size of Columbia County. Luckily, most of our county lies well above sea level for now, and we have plenty of farmland and enterprising farmers. Has anyone contacted Kiribati about investing here?
It sounds like the plot for a lame movie, but it’s no joke. Some people remember that thousands of American lost their lives dislodging Japanese troops from Kiribati’s main island, Tarawa, and other nearby strongholds in World War II. But even without that historic connection, Kiribati is an example of how the fate of a once impossibly faraway place is now tied to threats facing communities all around the globe. Should we care?
As a practical matter you’d have to assume that newspaper readers–stereotyped as middle-aged and older–will have a limited effect on slowing climate change. Instead the task will fall to the generations behind us, and the younger they are, the more engaged they are likely to be, because they won’t have a choice.
Younger generations will see the world differently. We did. Kids entering high school now, for instance, should be the first graduates free to discuss what to do about climate change without having to consider climate “denialists”–ignorant or self-serving people who distort what science tells us. The new generation will experience a climate much less benign than the one their elders assumed was a permanent fixture of the planet; denial won’t be an option. But ignorance will remain on the menu.
Fortunately we can do something about that problem. One approach was discussed at a recent meeting of the Hudson City School District Board of Education meeting, where the board heard a progress report from the Bridge Academy alternative learning program. It’s a separate school for kids at risk of dropping out. As public school experiment, not a charter school, the Bridge Academy allows for differences in the ways students learn. And while the data don’t prove the academy will succeed, the record so far shows that it’s made progress where before failure was the default option.
The Bridge Academy is what digital entrepreneurs like to call a disruptive venture. It emerged from a partnership of three different school districts and became such a threatening innovation that state officials tried hard at first to shut it down.
There are plenty of practical reasons for educating kids unable to learn in conventional classrooms. For starters the unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma is almost double the average for all workers. When they do find jobs, dropouts may not earn enough to support a family.
You’d also expect that successfully teaching more kids in creative ways has benefits harder to pin down. When we educate kids outside the box we get citizens who can think that way as adults. Our species will need a lot of that kind of thinking in the years ahead.
Don’t underestimate the task of keeping kids in school and focused on learning. It takes constant effort, innovation and patience. Ask any teacher. There will be failures, too. But failures clear the way for successful programs.
Hudson is the only urban school district in the county, and the need for the Bridge Academy is greatest there. Perhaps someday the Bridge Academy will serve students from all over the county, which is a better idea than reinventing academies in each district. But regardless of what happens to the Bridge Academy, all districts have the responsibility to educate all students in creative ways about the threat of climate change and the tools available to change the world we’re handing them.
Many of us reading this now will be gone before the worst effects of climate change are felt… or averted. But while we’re still around we can make ourselves useful by insisting that our schools place climate science at the center of public education.
It’s hard to find the Republic of Kiribati on a map, but most kids can show it to you on their digital devices faster than you can get up from your chair. Look quick before it’s gone.