In this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, nearly a 1,000 students and adults gathered at City Hall in Portland as part of a Global Climate Strike observed in cities across the country. Speakers and participants called on politicians to act in halting global climate change. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Audrey Hufnagel of Damariscotta is a sophomore at Lincoln Academy. Carey Hotaling is a retired Falmouth Middle School teacher.

Climate change is an urgent issue and its effects are already affecting Maine. The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world, and changing water temperatures threaten the lobster industry. Air temperatures are also warming and tick-borne illnesses are on the riseInvasive species are devastating populations of native Maine plants and animals. Without bold and immediate action, these effects will only worsen as time goes on.

We — a 15-year-old high school sophomore and a 63-year-old veteran educator — know that the climate crisis greatly affects the lives and futures of young people. Teaching students about the impacts of the climate crisis can inspire young people to take on careers in industries such as forestry, agriculture and renewable energy that will fuel Maine’s green economy to help deal with the future changes in our state. We are witness to incredible talent and potential among our youth to become a generation of future climate solution leaders.

Luckily, our state has an ambitious climate action plan, including education goals. A new climate education bill, LD 1902, A Resolve, To Establish a Pilot Program To Encourage Climate Education in Maine Public Schools, would start us in the right direction. The bill would fund teacher professional development in climate education and advance Maine’s climate action goals.

The bill is centered in equity. Systems for evaluating underserved students and schools would be developed to prioritize historically underserved schools, and a Department of Education position would be created to support under-resourced schools in applying for grants.

The bill is also rooted in community, supporting partnerships between Maine schools and the robust network of community organizations that can support climate education. Support is crucial. This pilot program would give teachers the support they need right now to best educate Maine’s future leaders, and could be evaluated for implementation after the three-year pilot. Teachers are overburdened and undersupported, and students are seeking factual, interdisciplinary information about the crisis of their generation and what is currently being done about it.

We know students are seeking clear, informative lessons about climate change and its impact on the places where we live in the state we love. Current climate education in schools is often lacking or inconsistent. Students deserve better. Students need to be taught about the real-life, present-day impacts of human-caused climate change on Maine’s ecology and economy. This way, students will look at the climate crisis not as a death sentence, but as an opportunity for innovation, creativity, collaboration, and hope.

Educators are excited about the Next Generation Science Standards due to a new interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. It takes time to learn how to teach these complex issues in a deeper and more meaningful way, and we are begging for support to learn to do this well. In a 2019 census, teachers identified climate change as our most important professional development content need, and it’s past time to begin this support.

We have witnessed students go from confused and anxious to knowledgeable and empowered throughout a unit on climate. Educating youth in public schools is the best way to inform the next generation about the changing climate and its impacts on humans and the world. At a time when so many teachers are overburdened and under-resourced, this bill would bring much-needed money, expertise and assistance to teach this timely subject.

Students and teachers are ready for others to realize the urgency of our need. We, among over 50 Maine students and teachers who have testified in favor of LD 1902, agree that this bill could not come soon enough to give teachers the support that they need (and have been asking for) to teach today’s students. This is the decade to make change, and now is the time to be implementing this professional learning in our schools.