Environmental Literacy for Alaskan Climate Stewards (ELACS)
The Environmental Literacy for Alaska Climate Stewards (ELACS) project involves K-12 Alaskan students from the Chugach School District and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in studies and activities to increase environmental and climate literacy and ultimately community resilience. Throughout the four-year project, students and teachers will work with scientists and experts from their communities, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Ocean Observing System, Local Environmental Observer Network, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Build A Buoy Project, and Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Earth Program. Rural Alaskan students live in some of the most vulnerable regions of the planet, areas that are highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation, bringing widespread impacts. Sea ice is rapidly receding, and glaciers are shrinking. Thawing permafrost is leading to more wildfire and affecting infrastructure and wildlife habitat. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification will alter valuable marine fisheries. The objectives of the Environmental Literacy for Alaskan Climate Stewards project are to provide rural, K-12 Alaska students and teachers in Alaskan Native villages with knowledge and opportunities that will help build understanding of local climate change impacts and to increase overall climate literacy and contribute to community resilience. Students and teachers will participate in first-hand experiences of environmental monitoring, data sampling through a locally relevant citizen science project, and by building ocean observation systems. The project has four main action and outcome areas: Professional development and monthly ongoing project support – including school-site delivery and workshops at the NOAA Lab facilities in Kachemak Bay, Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and Anchorage. Classroom instruction that engages the students in meaningful, innovative, place-based, project-based learning, and citizen science activities geared around site and community needs. Community Engagement – which includes interviews with community members, involvement in community-based environmental monitoring, and through annual student events. Application of Knowledge – Students will discuss components of the Weather and Climate Tool-Kit with community members, elders, and leaders, focusing on climate-related problems, and action planning for mitigation and adaptation. Students can share active research regarding impacts and available resources. This project will be orchestrated through the Chugach School District, which serves rural students from all over the state of Alaska through their Voyages residential, two-week phase programs, as well as the three Prince William Sound villages of Chenega Bay, Whittier, and Tatitlek, and an extensive home school services program. The coastal, native Alaskan villages of Seldovia, Port Graham, Tyonek, and Nanwalek across Kachemak Bay, in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will be included in this project. ELACS directly connects to NOAA’s educational mission, as it will help the target population understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts through project objectives and activities. This project will promote the students’ stewardship and deeper understanding of their environment and the changes happening at a local and global level.
Resilience from the Youth Up
As climate impacts ratchet up across the United States, the Great Lakes region tends to fly under the national radar. While the Great Lakes do not experience hurricanes, rising sea levels, or large-scale wildfires, the local climate has become increasingly erratic in recent years. The region, however, is one of the most unprepared in the country to cope with these impacts. A recent Grosvenor report (2014) on climate resilience among 50 global cities ranked Detroit last among 11 U.S. cities for adaptability and only better than three cities for overall resilience, which incorporates both climate vulnerability and adaptability factors. Of U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents, Detroit has the highest percentage of African-American residents (80.7%, U.S. Census 2016). Still recovering from bankruptcy, the city also has a 39% poverty rate, which impacts over 56% of children (ibid). These socio-economic factors, coupled with other environmental justice concerns, such as a centrally located incinerator and an asthma rate of 15.5% among adults resulting in over 3,000 hospitalizations annually, make Detroit residents particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. This project will address the urgent need to increase resilience by working with high school students and teachers in Detroit and southeast Michigan to increase their awareness of climate change and develop projects that help their schools and neighborhoods become resilient to increased occurrence and intensity of heat waves, storm events, and flooding. Using NOAA assets, including GLISA localized climate data and Sea Grant outreach and education expertise, high school students and teachers will partner with climate scientists to explore local climate impacts firsthand and to develop resilience strategies and projects that protect vulnerable households and neighborhoods and contribute to broader sustainability initiatives. The City of Detroit seeks this involvement as it ramps up a new Office of Sustainability and seeks proposals to develop the city's first Sustainability Framework. The effort is a partnership with EcoWorks, Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessments (GLISA), Michigan Sea Grant (MISG), Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS), Eastern Michigan University, Civic Research Services, Inc., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In each of the next three years, 200 students from various high schools in the Detroit and Ypsilanti areas will participate in weekly activities related to the grant. The four primary objectives of the program include: 1) Engage students in assessing and quantifying climate vulnerabilities of their schools, neighborhoods, and surrounding community. 2) Using a place-based education (PBE) model, prepare educators to engage students in creating plans and completing projects that increase community resilience. 3) Empower high school students to teach residents about local climate impacts and increase understanding of resilience strategies to mitigate extreme weather events or other environmental hazards. 4) Contribute to the completion and implementation of local sustainability and climate action plans in Southeast Michigan.