Monday, December 7, 2015

Education Matters: Generating a Green Citizenry

Many people ask what the role of Moravian College is at the U.N. climate conferences. There are actually several roles, including being a part of the official civil society voice on a topic that we care deeply about, participating as members of the research community related to climate change, and witnessing first-hand the complexity of negotiations on the international stage. But perhaps the most important role, however, we play is in education.

Our decision to apply for observer status to the UNFCCC in 2009 grew out of discussions that my colleague Hilde Binford and I had when we first began co-teaching a course on climate change. It is one thing to read up on the U.N. negotiations process and try to relay the information to students. It is quite another when you can actually take them to the international conference and have them be directly involved. For those who cannot attend, our faculty who attend are gaining direct and current knowledge that can be shared with students back home.

We learned early on that the U.S. media doesn’t routinely provide detailed coverage of the COP meetings, and, in general, there have been significant weaknesses in how the topic of climate change more generally is covered in various news outlets. Thus, we initiated this blog to share the observations of Moravian faculty, students, and others who attend the COP meetings with campus and the larger community. As I write this, we are approaching 40,000 views on our page suggesting that we have reached at least some people. In addition, our students and faculty have given talks at a wide range of events when they return each year; we don’t have numbers for those audiences.

Attending COP meetings has had a profound impact on the student participants. Several have gone on to graduate programs related to environmental science, climate change policy, and/or sustainability. Some of these former students work at the United Nations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or for the city of New York (on climate change policy); others are working as environmental consultants. We are so proud of them.

At COP21 this year, there was an entire day devoted to the theme of climate change education. Some highlights of the discussions are included in a video. I was struck by the opening call by Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, not just for greener economies, legislation, policies and regulations, and societies, but also for “green citizens.” She and others went on to express the need for education to “shape the new values, skills and knowledge for the century ahead.” The links to our college mission and how we define a liberal education are quite clear in my opinion.

Yoka Brandt, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, noted that empowering the children “reduces their vulnerability to their climate risks’ and “contributes to resilient families and communities and indeed to sustainable development." She went on to say:
It is not only about the planet we leave to our children. It is also about the children we leave to the planet. They have the potential and the passion. We have the responsibility to give them the tools to turn this passion into a powerful force for change.
As an educational institution that prepares future teachers, scientists, economists, policy makers, innovators, problem solvers, and yes, citizens, we have to share in this responsibility and challenge.

The Research and Independent NGOs side event on Research and Climate Policy featured many young researchers


  1. I am not an environmental scientist but I understand the importance and significance of the issues being addressed at this conference. There needs be more exposure on these topics to help make changes!! I believe we are slowly moving in the right direction but consistency is key! It makes me proud to be a Hound that we have representatives from our college addressing these issues!

  2. Reinforcing the delicacy of this issue thru campaigns and education is important. What I'm most concerned about are the ideas that our leaders are presenting and sharing with our neighbors. How are they going to respond to natural disasters that will occur at higher frequencies. In the past decade, we have seen poor natural response efforts by state leaders over how medical care and supplies have been kept locked-up in isolated areas, where people who need them can't get to them. What are our plans to avoid red-tape or confusion in the threat of future natural disasters?

  3. Education is such an important point! Every student should understand what is happening and what needs to be done -- and have the tools to do it. By allowing students to engage directly with the UN process, Moravian is providing a unique opportunity.
    This needs to extend into the K-12 schools as well -- and not just in environmental science classes. The Alliance's new schools initiative [] is a start, but interested college students could make a valuable contribution by working with the project or doing presentations in the schools.