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Finding climate solutions — in schools


I'm a goat, from Paramount School of Excellence. How's it goin'? Say hi to your mother for me. - JIM POYSER
  • Jim Poyser
  • I'm a goat, from Paramount School of Excellence. How's it goin'? Say hi to your mother for me.

As awareness grows regarding the coming climate crisis, so does our sense of despair. The problem is so enormous, with so many moving parts, it seems insurmountable. Add that we live in Indiana, where facing the climate challenge is way down on the list of priorities. Like, way, way down.

We'd rather ogle today's bottom line than prepare for the future, ignoring the consensus science about fossil fuels' impact on our atmosphere. Nor do we like thinking about the methane and nitrous oxide emissions pouring from our factory farm operations.

I am stumped trying to understand what we, collectively, are doing. Maybe something this big can't be understood. It is tempting to conclude we are hell-bent to unconsciously destroy the very habitat on which we rely.

I spend a lot of time in Indiana schools: elementary, middle and high schools. To get to and from those schools takes transportation — a LOT of transportation. In many cases, parents drive their children.

So picture this: Parents, sitting in cars, awaiting the single most precious things in their lives, idling way, poisoning the very air these precious things are emerging from the school to breathe.

It doesn't matter whether there are "no idling" signs or not; they just keep idling.

Now, extrapolate that madness out over a global scale. The idling cars of commerce and waste are poisoning and deafening and destroying our planet, but we can't be bothered to shut them off, let alone deeply reflect on the reasons why we keep doing the same things over and over again.

What I do understand, however, is what happens in between these idle-fests of getting kids to and from school. Because tucked in there is a vista of six to eight hours of schooltopia, the potential for kids to create the world they want to live in, in the way they want to live it, with the support of teachers, administrators, staff, local non-profits and parents.

Chicken coop, Paramount - JIM POYSER
  • Jim Poyser
  • Chicken coop, Paramount

My epiphany

Around two years ago, I was invited to CFI IPS #2 in downtown Indianapolis to meet with fourth- and fifth-graders to talk about human impact on the environment; specifically, climate change. This was not an easy decision for me. I had been spending time with elders, adults, college kids, even the occasional high school class, but I had never presented to kids that young. I wasn't sure what to do with them; I didn't want to scare the daylights out of them with slides about climate change.

What I experienced that day changed my life forever. I'm not hyperbolizing. It was truly a pivot point. These students were talking to me about aquaponics and gardening and vermi-composting and green roofs. Sure, they had a working knowledge of fossil fuels' impact on the climate, but they were largely focused on finding solutions.

Now, this is what I do for work. I go to schools to present slideshows to kids about climate change solutions; they show me what they're doing when it comes to sustainability. I record their acts of sustainability and include them in my subsequent presentations to other kids, who then display their acts of sustainability — their solar water heater, their greenhouse, their solar panels, their wind turbines — that I photograph and add to my now impossibly long, bursting-at-the-seams slideshows.

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I also spread the word via my organization, Earth Charter Indiana and its two main programs, Sustainable Indiana 2016 and Youth Power Indiana. I also blog about it.

The net effect of all this richness is a boggling array of sustainability solutions going on right now in schools all over Indiana. The kids get it, folks. They understand their futures are threatened; they understand climate change: A recent poll of eighth graders revealed 90 percent believe climate change is human-caused.

They also understand they can't rely on their political and cultural systems to serve them; they have to get the job done themselves.

In doing so, they reveal the clarion path: schools as thriving community centers; as display models for sustainability; as, literally, farms — food farms, solar farms, soil farms.

So here's my premise: We can solve our climate crisis — or at the very least, build resilient systems to face the very worst of it — by investing in our schools as they show us the way forward.

Paramount garden - JIM POYSER
  • Jim Poyser
  • Paramount garden

No mere caveat

All right, I can guess what you are thinking. Here's this guy (me), flitting about the periphery, swooping into schools here and there, doing something fun, then flying out again, like a bee or butterfly pollinating the flowers.

The real truth, you're musing, is that schools, especially public schools in Indianapolis, are in a spiraling vortex of decreased budgets, test-obsession, and despair. Indeed, even as you read this (if you've picked up this NUVO during the last part of April or the early part of May), the poor kiddoes are once again hunched over their ISTEPs, pencils clenched in their hands or fingers poised over keyboards.

Well, I get you. Look: I know I am in my own personal echo chamber. I only go to the schools that want me to visit them. And the schools that want me to visit are the ones up for an adventure, or into project-based learning, or are looking to have their science curriculum supplemented by an ecotainer like me.

So before moving on, let's pause and tip our hats and lift our glasses and hold our hands over our hearts for all the teachers, staff and administrators out there. They get up every single morning — way too early, mind you — and go to work, deal with the test, the discipline problems, the budget challenges, and do their very best to grow our children into civic-minded, career-ready, creative-thinking citizens.


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