Educating Teens About Environmental Issues (CJN November 2011)

This "Sustainable Jew" article appeared inthe Canadian Jewish News November 3, 2011

During the time surrounding the High Holiday period, I had the opportunity to speak to Grade 8 Science classes at a number of the Toronto Jewish Day Schools.

My talks are generally drawn from materials I have access to as a result of being trained by Al Gore as a Climate Reality Project volunteer presenter. Recently, Mr. Gore hosted a 24 hour effort, 1 for each time zone in the world, where local speakers would explain climate change and global warming in the global and local context.

What was new this time were some of the videos and visuals used to get a clear message across, that the time to debate scientific findings is over, and the time for action was now.

The message I wanted to impart on these Grade 8 science students had to be carefully crafted to balance the challenge of climate change and the belief that something can be done about it.

The key message that emerged dealt with questioning and looking for proof around statements and assertions being made on the topic and how to differentiate between propaganda and reality.

Through the videos and slides selected, the conversation with these students helped them understand why it was important to become more literate on the topic of climate change, understand how to put the issue into a Jewish context, and then find some way to ensure measurable energy consumption reduction action going forward.

Fortunately, the schools which invited me to present had also discovered that the best way to learn was to work together. These schools had recently agreed to submit a joint proposal to the ongoing ClimateSpark Social Venture Challenge (

The focus of their joint Inter-School Conservation Quantification proposal was to find creative ways for students and teachers to quantify measurable energy consumption at school and to become more skilled at quantifying energy consumption at home.

The first level of discovery was expected to be within the individual school branch, looking at real numbers around the consumption of electricity, water and natural gas and developing an understanding of what was actually driving the consumption.

As the numbers were being gathered and visualized, the Grade 8 students were also asked to look at what other students aged 12 – 18 were doing, specific to activities for which energy consumption reduction could be quantified.

From there, the proposed effort could go in 2 directions either into the home or to the sister campus of each of the schools. Once the North / South intra-school effort was in place, the next step envisioned would be an inter-school effort testing out community electronic brainstorming.

The current proposal needs to execute with the Greater Toronto Area. The next logical direction for the proposal would be an inter-country effort linking Grade 8 students in Toronto and Eilat, Israel using the fact based approach and electronic brainstorming to develop a stronger understanding of the differences and similarities to the problem and approaches to solving it.

This is one of almost 50 proposals currently competing in ClimateSpark. On November 1, the schools will discover whether they make the final 20.

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