If you watched the State of the Union address the other night, you may have cheered along with environmentalists and scientists when President Obama proclaimed that climate change is an undeniable fact. I wasn't cheering though—I was indignant.
Climate change is real? Thanks, Mr. President. That's something. But it’s not nearly enough.
President Obama wants to transform our country into a “clean energy economy,” to curb CO2 emissions, and back renewable energy and fuel efficiency projects. All noble efforts, but they are all at high risk of failure.
Why? Not because of a recalcitrant Congress or other political challenges. The failure will come from an uneducated public that doesn’t understand climate change and what we can do about it. In recent years, the government has gutted science education and outreach from organizations such as NASA and NOAA. As a result, we have a population of misinformed Americans who don't understand the science behind climate change, much less the policies and programs needed to slow, if not stop, climate change in its tracks.
The President can propose any number of green initiatives. But if the electorate (and the elected) is clueless about the very real and deadly threat posed by climate change, not much is going to happen. And any action that is taken could be undone by the next administration if the public doesn’t clamor for policies that seriously address climate change.
What could the government do differently? Well, restoring (and increasing) funding for climate change education to start. But there’s more. Every action the President takes on climate change should be tied to an equivalent educational program. A lesson plan, a video, a national teacher training initiative—something that connects the policy to the science. Policy may be what changes the landscape now, but an investment in education will create a better future.
President Obama realizes that climate change is going to affect our children and our children’s children. During the State of the Union address, he said, “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” But for them to pose that question, they must understand the basics on climate and energy. And the only way that's going to happen is if we invest in climate education now.
That’s the sort of change we can all believe in.