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.
Dr. Patti Millette
Here is the story of Dr. Patti Millette, who teaches 9th grade Earth Science at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington. She testified for LD 1902, the Climate Education Bill, as a teacher of climate change hoping others would be involved through grants from the program created by LD 1902.
Talking climate education with Dr. Millette
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What does climate education look like at your school?
We know that our students in ninth grade need some technical background about climate, but they didn't need to know all of the details of the in-depth science. What was just as important for them was to know why it was happening and how it was going to affect their lives. Like: 'Why should you care? What does it have to do with you?' So our program stresses those two things a lot.
We teach them, of course, about the greenhouse effect. Then we have one section of the unit where they have to research either a natural cause of climate change or an anthropogenic cause of climate change, and then do a little report on it so they know why it’s happening. For many ninth graders, this is their first real dive into doing scientific research, referencing everybody and making sure their sources are good. Along with their report, they also have to create an artistic symbol of their topic. These were amazing!
Then we do a second project, basing it on a document put out by the University of Maine, called Maine's Climate Future, since they are the ones actually doing a lot of research. After looking at this data, students have to answer two questions. The first question is: Has the climate in Maine changed? And of course, the answer has to be “yes,” because it has, and the data supports that. And so even the most die-hard, 'I don't believe in climate change kids' go 'Oh, yeah, I guess it has,' which is itself a huge aha moment right there. But then we also want them to know,: "How has it changed?' Students find out that sea level is rising, and precipitation has gone up, and snowfall has gone down, etc...So that's a huge eye opener.
The second half of this project then asks them: 'How is that change going to affect something you care about?' So kids talk about…because they see it a lot…things like: 'How does that change snowmobiling conditions or skiing conditions? Or fishing, or making maple syrup, the incidence of Lyme disease and how many ticks does your dog end up having?' Since they all have to address different topics, students see a lot of different ways climate change is affecting Maine. And that brings it home to them.
Why did you write testimony in support of LD 1902?
When this bill came up, I thought: ‘I don't know how many schools in Maine are still teaching earth science at all these days. And at the ones that are not, where do kids learn this?' I have no idea. How many people really know what to do and how to teach this?
I am fortunate to have some background in climate science from UMaine Orono, which has been helpful in putting together our own program. But obviously not all teachers have formal training in climate science. I thought this bill could provide a good opportunity for teachers to get some resources to help with their programs, especially if they didn’t have a lot of formal training.
Why is it important to teach climate education?
It is important to make sure that we do talk about climate change in schools, because young people need to know the reality of how it is already affecting us, and how it could affect our future. However, understanding the data about climate without all the hype, helps them to not be so frightened that they are paralyzed, and do nothing about it. It gives them possible ways to affect their own future. After dealing with the evidence for climate change, many students in my classes make their first impact by writing to their legislators. They are free to write about any climate concern, but they are required to suggest a possible solution as well. The letters are wonderful. Students make some excellent suggestions, and they often get responses back. Helping students understand the evidence and then giving them a voice to act on it is empowering for them.
What has been exciting in your experience of climate education?
Two years ago (2020-2021), I had given my students an end-of-year questionnaire. And one of the questions was: ‘What about science scares you the most?’ Not surprisingly, the two big things were COVID, and climate change. While COVID has been somewhat resolved for them, they are still really anxious and afraid about climate change, because they don't know what's happening, or what to do, and they hear a lot of conflicting opinions about it.
So last year (2021-2022), I started calling people for help. I have a contact at UMaine Farmington, who I went to grad school with, who's doing climate research on local lakes. I also talked to our local state representative, and he connected with somebody in the legislature, Representative Lydia Blume. Then she connected me with two women from the Maine Climate Council, who said, 'Oh, we’ll come and talk to your students.' Everyone was so enthusiastic about our project, and it just exploded into this big thing.
In the end, we had ten speakers come to share their expertise around climate in workshops with the students. We had a local farmer who talked about how climate is changing the way people are farming. We had the researcher from UMF who monitors lakes, the head of the Maine Forest Service, someone from Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and two young women from the Sunrise Movement who spoke to the other students about what young people are doing to make a difference.
We also included the solar company Revision Energy, because we wanted to know: ‘What are some industries that are doing a good job, that are doing something about climate?’ Because that's what a lot of our kids want to know, ‘I’m concerned about climate, but can I get a job doing this? ‘ The folks at Revision were very excited to send someone over to help. Also it’s really important that students know there are smart, creative, successful people working hard on this problem, and making an impact.
We also had three people from the state Climate Council participate. One of them talked about what the state of Maine is doing to mitigate climate change, and one of them talked about how we're adapting to climate change. Representative Lydia Blume did a little session about, if you're concerned about something, how do you make it into a law? Teach kids how to be activists, you know, like, "Okay, I'm really afraid about climate change. What do I do?" So she took them through the whole process.
While I was organizing speakers, one of the important instructions I gave each of them was to keep all the politics out of their presentations. I wanted the students to get the facts, so they could use real evidence to make decisions about climate for themselves and not base them on someone’s political opinions.
These workshops included every possible student in the ninth grade. Ninth grade teachers in English, science, and social studies were all very excited about it, so they all got on board. So, every student that had English, social studies, or science at that time automatically participated in this event. And then the other kids went as they could get permission to miss different classes. So we were able to have most of the 9th grade students participate, probably 150 out of 200 kids, and most of them went to two or three of the workshops.
It was such a great event, we did it again this year, and we'll probably do it again next year as well.
Interview with Carey Hotaling, April 2023.
Learn more about the Climate Education Bill, how teachers can apply for funds from LD 1902, and other stories of Advocacy in Action.