Building a Green Texas: Activating a New Generation of Sustainability Leaders
Climate change disproportionately impacts low-income and otherwise marginalized communities that typically have the fewest resources to adapt. Furthermore, the very communities that feel the effects of climate change most acutely have been historically underrepresented in the fields of sustainability and green building. The Building a Green Texas (BGT) project helps address these concerns by giving high school students opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to tackle challenges posed by climate change. In the process, students gain valuable green career skills and credentials and become part of a green building school-to-job pipeline that will help contribute to a more diverse workforce. Texas-based nonprofit EcoRise, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute/National Estuarine Reserve System of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management will lead this robust, three-year project beginning in Central Texas in Year 1 and expanding into Houston and Texas Gulf Coast communities in Year 2. Through school-year field experiences and paid summer internships, students in the program will use established scientific evidence, citizen science, and an understanding of location-specific socioeconomic and ecological factors to explore current and future extreme weather phenomena and other environmental hazards facing their communities. They will gain real-world learning experiences and career exposure by directly engaging with scientists, civic leaders, green building professionals, and NOAA data and staff. As students help design community-based green building projects, they will consider scientific uncertainty, cultural knowledge, and social equity, in the real-world context of improving community resilience.
Building Environmental Resiliency Leaders (BERL)
Among the most geographically isolated islands in the world, Maui’s fragile environment is highly vulnerable to sudden (hurricanes, flooding) and prolonged (drought, ocean acidification, sea-level rise) environmental changes. The University of Hawai?i Maui College seeks to build an environmentally literate and resilient community equipped to address, manage, and mitigate the challenges associated with environmental events and hazards. Building Environmental Resiliency Leaders (BERL) has three main goals: 1) Develop environmental hazards modules specific to Hawai’i that can be integrated into high-school curriculum; 2) Strengthen students’ understanding of environmental hazards and build self-efficacy in being contributors towards community resilience; and 3) Create community awareness of and ability to prepare for environmental hazards. By partnering with all 10 Maui County public and private high schools, BERL seeks to empower 200 environmentally resilient high school youth leaders —including Native Hawaiian, underrepresented, and low-income students in grades 9 through 12— throughout the islands of Maui, Moloka?i, and Lana?i. The BERL project will develop the Environmental Resiliency Youth Leaders certification program with curriculum to engage students in active learning through innovative Problem-based Learning (PBL) group projects where students select a research topic informed by climate resiliency educational modules and consult with community subject matter experts; including partners from the National Weather Service, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, University of Hawai?i Sea Grant, Maui Emergency Management Agency, Maui County energy Commissioner, and Hawai?i Emergency Management Agency. Specifically, curriculum will integrate and align: 1) Overview of environmental events & hazards: tropical cyclones/hurricanes, drought/fires, ocean acidification, and seal level rise/flooding ; 2) Local scenarios & experiential outdoor learning; 3) US Climate Resiliency Toolkit; and 4) Development of resiliency plan to work towards either a) utilizing school as resiliency hub site; or b) addressing long-term resiliency to prolonged environmental changes. As a culminating event, students will present their final projects and host workshops to the broader community at local or regional events with a potential reach of 90,000 annually over three project years. In addition, BERL will hold an annual Resiliency Awareness Day, reaching 1,000 students annually, to build community awareness and resources. Amidst the threat of COVID-19 and necessary safety measures, BERL is prepared to mobilize an online curriculum for students with online presentations and virtual events to reach the broader community. BERL aligns with NOAA’s mission to educate and motivate individuals to apply environmental science to increase stewardship and resilience to environmental hazards by creating a cadre of youth environmental resiliency leaders, trained educators, and broadly reaching over half of the Maui County population. The project employs a culturally relevant, place-based, and PBL approach where 40 teams of students engage in research projects to build environmental literacy at their high schools and the wider community. In alignment with NOAA's Education Strategic Plan (2015-2035), BERL seeks to “educate and inspire people to use Earth system science toward improving ecosystem stewardship and increasing resilience to environmental hazards.”
Climate Resilience and Community-driven Action With a Hyperlocalized Public Forum
The Science Museum of Virginia will build upon its community science experience and its role as a trusted source of climate science information to lead “Climate Resilience and Community-driven Action with a Hyperlocalized Public Forum in Richmond, VA” in partnership with Virginia Community Voice, Groundwork RVA, Happily Natural Day, and Southside ReLeaf - local nonprofits with proven track records of effecting change through community engagement and urban greening initiatives. This project supports Richmond’s work to heal social, racial, and environmental injustices by increasing community resilience to climate change through placemaking. Richmond served as both the Capital of the Confederacy and the United States’ second largest trading port for enslaved persons during the 19th century. In the 1930s and 1940s, redlining - the systematic denial of access to home loans, mortgage insurance, or credit based on an applicant’s race or ethnicity - effectively segregated people of color into less desirable urban neighborhoods. Research conducted both in Richmond and nationwide demonstrates that, today, formerly redlined neighborhoods tend to be significantly hotter, more prone to flooding, and experience poorer air quality than non-redlined areas. These neighborhoods also tend to be home to individuals - mostly Black and brown - with the fewest resources to adapt to the health and financial impacts of human-caused climate change, which continues to intensify each year. Richmond’s mayor and Office of Sustainability support this project, which will align community vision with existing planning efforts that seek to build a Richmond that is “a sustainable and resilient city with healthy air, clean water, and a flourishing ecosystem that nurtures healthy communities, increases resiliency to the effects of a changing climate through adaptation and mitigation, develops the built environment to enhance natural assets, and ensures all people have access to nature and healthy communities.” Because resiliency is a process, youth and adults participating in this project will explore hazards (specifically flooding and extreme heat); assess their vulnerability and risks (determine how climate change is currently harming, or will most likely harm, neighborhoods); investigate options (by determining which resilience-building strategies are most effective for each community and vision); prioritize and plan local resilience-building strategies (ensuring that residents’ vision can be realized); and take action by implementing and sustaining projects in the community with project partners. Strategies may include placemaking through planting trees, building permeable pathways, constructing shade structures, and creating community gardens to provide shade, fresh food, and neighborhood gathering spaces, as well as rainwater harvesting and bioretention rain gardens to mitigate stormwater issues. This project is unique because it will actively support nonprofits that engage historically underserved people whose voice is commonly left out of City planning efforts, increase their environmental literacy, and provide resources needed to enact their vision. RK&A will evaluate the project, which will build upon evaluation data from the Science Museum’s previous NOAA ELP-funded project - “Learn, Prepare, Act - Resilient Citizens Make Resilient Communities” - and a NOAA-funded project by the Museum of Science Boston - “Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities: Increasing Resilience Through Citizen-Created Data, Local Knowledge and Community Values.”