Activism: Environmental Education

If the cuffed polar bear sitting in a giant electric chair didn’t convince enough students en route to their classes last January, the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) is getting another chance this February. And so will thousands of other schools at the second annual National Teach-in on Global Warming Solutions, formerly known as Focus the Nation. (The nonprofit group Green House Network still runs a project by this name, but it is no longer affiliated with the annual daylong teach-in.)

The National Teach-in on Global Warming Solutions was founded by Eban Goodstein, professor of economics at Lewis & Clark College. Professors of art, biology and religion incorporate lessons about global warming into their lectures on the same designated day and tailor events to their schools.

“It became apparent to me that if my own sense of urgency was at this level, it would be true of my colleagues at other universities,” Goodstein says.

Unlike other initiatives, the National Teach-In works with schools, not against them. “When the idea was conceived it was reminiscent of protests during the Vietnam era,” says Kristin Blackler, sustainability analyst at UCSD. “But the teach-in is much more in line with students in higher education today. Students work with the establishment.”

Goodstein wants to see 5,000 schools and five million people involved this February, up from 1,900 schools and a million people last year. This time around, he hopes to see a stronger policy focus. And February is an especially ripe time for that aim.

“February is the beginning of the first 100 days of the new administration. It’s a critical moment for the planet,” Goodstein says. “If Congress doesn’t pass climate legislation in 2009, it’s pretty much a window that’s closed for the future and for today’s young people.”