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Climate Education Bill: Advocacy in Action

In 2022, a groundbreaking $2.1 million Climate Education Bill was passed in the Maine legislature. This huge policy win, resulting in funding for climate education professional development for public school teachers, emerged from a youth- and educator-led, grassroots effort to make change in Maine public schools, and increase access to climate education for all Maine students. It is a bill that was dreamed up by Maine youth and teachers, supported by community organizations across the state, and supported by strong legislative champions. Members of NBEC’s Climate Education Advocacy and Stories for Change working groups have collaborated on bringing forward stories of people involved in the LD 1902, Climate Education Bill campaign.

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Joanna Leary

Here is the story of Joanna Leary, a life science teacher at Falmouth High School, who wrote testimony in support of LD 1902, the Climate Education Bill.

Talking about frustration & hope with Joanna Leary

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your experience of climate education in your job?


I'm not having enough time to do it the way I would like to. In the state of Maine Learning Results for biology, you really literally cannot cover it in a single year class. So it's always a triage of ‘what am I going to do?’ It's an experience of feeling very frustrated, because I think it's one of the most important things that I could be talking about, and I don't have enough time.


Why would you say that it's important to you?


‘Cause we are massively screwing up the planet. And I think people should know that. And they should know the data behind it. We're in trouble. And I don't think there's a wide enough recognition of that. It's not about life on Earth continuing, but it's about our species, and also the right of other species to exist, which we're rapidly taking away from a lot of them, which angers me and saddens me greatly.


Are there other obstacles to teaching climate in schools?


I would like more resources. And I would like more knowledge about how to talk about it in a way that doesn't just make it sound like we should all just give up. I have a tendency to get really dark about it, which is not helpful. I do believe that there is hope. And I do believe we could solve this.


What's the feeling you get from your students?


The students now have way more awareness than students used to. But they're like, 'What am I supposed to do? I'm just a teenager. And I'm not Greta Thunberg. So what am I supposed to do?' I think that they have awareness, they have fear, and they don't have much of a sense of agency.


So why did you support LD 1902?


I know that there are places where there isn't even as much as I'm doing– there is no [climate] education happening. Or people are living in a place where they might–especially in the climate that exists now in education–they might be afraid to talk about it. 


I am comfortable with the science around climate change, but there are people who don't have that level of comfort. And then let's say you're in that position, and you're living someplace where you pretty much know it's not going to be welcomed. I could see someone just kind of skating by it. I don't really know how to talk about it. 


What do you hope happens now?


I hope that we do increase the general capacity to deliver good instruction on it and comfort with doing it. And I also hope that there is a huge amount of support, because I don't know a single teacher right now who's not ready to collapse. So if it comes across as 'here's this extra work you have to do,' there will be no buy-in and there will be no change at all. We need to set it up to be something where, 'here's a group of lessons for elementary school, here's a group of lessons for middle school,' – something that somebody could just pick up and do.

​Interview with Nick Lund, April 2023.

About The Climate Education Bill

The Climate Education professional development funds outlined by LD 1902 are prioritizing schools in historically underserved districts. This way, the resources will go to educators who have less experience in climate education, supporting students in districts where climate education has not historically be taught.

The bill was designed to take pressure off educators by partnering them with community organizations that can help prepare for and deliver professional development.

Learn more

Learn more about the Climate Education Bill, how teachers can apply for funds from LD 1902, and other stories of Advocacy in Action.

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