What does education have to do with action — in the face of the climate crisis? - Generocity Philly

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Apr. 7, 2021 3:27 pm

What does education have to do with action — in the face of the climate crisis?

Local universities and schools offer open access teaching resources and frameworks for environmental sustainability and resilience, says columnist Eric Hartman.

(Photo by Flickr user John Loo via a Creative Commons license)

Universities and schools are undertaking clearer roles in one of our most fundamentally global issues: environmental sustainability and resilience. Initiatives underway across our state include a breadth of open access teaching resources and frameworks for action.

Just outside Philadelphia, West Chester University’s comprehensive Sustainability Story Map illustrates the ways in which campus infrastructure choices intersect with personal actions and educational opportunities.

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WCU begins with the globally recognized, “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” — the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — and applies that lens to their own campus. Toggle over to the Story Map — its breadth shows the extent of reimagination we need to meet this moment, covering campus efforts on energy efficient buildings, geothermal heating and cooling, bike share, mass transit access, waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, dining services, coffee and food shops, stormwater management, campus gardens, and growing the tree population. All of this work occurs in addition to WCU’s regular sustainability seminars and public events.

In Philly, University of Pennsylvania Program in Environmental Humanities graduate students Davy Knittle and Andrew Niess have launched an initiative to gather and organize curricular resources for environmental justice education in and around Philadelphia at the secondary school and college level.

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Another open-access resource, West Philadelphia Collaborative History, is sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. That second site includes a section specific to Green Spaces and the Environment, which chronicles the ecosystem of the urban landscape, including the waterways that have been covered over, sometimes more than once.

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This local work — understanding our specific intersectional and complicated histories — is fundamental to grasping the steps we can take to decrease our carbon footprints and collaborate across built boundaries, to co-create more sustainable systems. The Environmental Justice Curriculum Hub is accepting submissions through April 30.

While West Chester illuminates the pedagogy to physical plant partnerships story particularly well, and Penn amplifies exciting globally relevant and locally rooted educational resources, some of my colleagues at Haverford College have been working with a breadth of collaborators to expand thinking about what is necessary and possible. The result is an Open Access Virtual Summit, Educating for a Just Ecological Transition: Building Higher Educational Alliances in a Time of Climate Crisis. Three sessions remain in the free series.

The extent of opportunities can be dizzying. Fortunately The Philadelphia  Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development, PHENND, has noticed the intersection of all of these activities, organizing a new initiative: PHENND Sustainability. PHENND Sustainability launched Feb 25 of this year.

Recorded here, it included community organizers, educators, urbanites and suburbanites, students — the full range of people necessary for collaborative work across watersheds. It’s proving to be a robust place for gathering people together and sparking new work — and amplifying what’s already happening through the initiative’s newsletter, which you can sign up for here, by being certain to click on the “PHENND Sustainability” option.

Important work is occurring across the state as well. And it’s Dickinson College in Southcentral PA and Allegheny College north of Pittsburgh that are the only Pennsylvania higher education institutions that have achieved the enviable status of Carbon Neutral.

In another form of national recognition, The Bicycle Friendly University Awards from the League of American Bicyclists assesses whether campuses make biking an accessible and easy option for everyone. Penn State University received Gold Status. It’s easy to see PSU’s impact on sustainability planning with a glance at State College on Google Maps, demonstrating all of the bike lanes and trails in green:

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More than just an easy way to get to class, quality bike infrastructure can transform suburban and small town landscapes, decreasing carbon footprint while providing opportunities to better connect with neighbors. Small cities and towns across America and around the world have converted for the connected, healthy, resilient future we need. And we know it’s necessary: rural and suburban communities contribute carbon to the atmosphere at a higher rate than urban counterparts.

College and university planning and cooperation with local municipalities can nudge this kind of thing along. Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania also made the Bicycle Friendly List, along with a few others across the state.

Local environmental action — including campus infrastructure — can improve our relationship with the global community by reducing our carbon footprints. And education supports our ongoing efforts to develop rising generations’ understanding of our relationship with ecosystems.

There’s one more way that the local intersects with the global through SDGs, and that is through comparative analysis. Through the Community-based Global Learning Collaborative, which we host at Haverford College, we’ve developed an open access introductory teaching resource on considering the Sustainable Development Goals in Philadelphia.

The bad news is that US cities perform pretty poorly — in terms of SDGs — in comparison to other cities around the world. And the Philadelphia Metro Region ranked at number 40 among US Cities. The good news is that we can all flourish by lifting up strong examples of resilient systems across the US and around the world. By learning from one another and implementing lessons learned, we can all step forward for more just, inclusive, sustainable communities.

We start by educating ourselves, locally, better understanding our impacts, learning what works around the world, and stepping forward together. Global Philadelphia has also launched an initiative, partnering with Mural Arts and a range of regional nonprofits and institutions to publicize and catalyze action on achieving the SDGs from Philly.

Below you’ll find more Philadelphia and Pennsylvania events at the intersection of local-global connections, justice, inclusion, and sustainability. Please share your events, news, and updates with me through the PA Council for International Education form linked there, so I can include them in these lists moving forward.

Upcoming in PA Global Education, Inclusivity, and Sustainability:

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For next month’s area of focus for the column, I’m open to suggestions. Send me a note: ehartman1@haverford.edu.

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