Climate News

February 16, 2023
By: Danielle Hefferan, Lindsey Kirkland, and Sarah Goodspeed

TeachScience in Minnesota Schools

TeachScience in Minnesota Schools - Photo

Climate Generation has been awarded a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) grant to fund our TeachScience project, which will support Minnesota schools in becoming living laboratories — places that bring science, engineering, and education together using their own environment and infrastructure. 

Through the TeachScience project, middle school science teachers will receive hands-on training at free, in-person professional development workshops to kick off our TeachScience project. These regional two-day workshops will provide a foundation for learning the new Minnesota middle school science energy and climate standards and support learners in building green career awareness and skills. 

At these workshops educators will envision what sustained support looks like to deepen experiences where students can learn about energy, the environment, and climate change.

TeachScience: Why Now?

With the ten-year update to science standards adopted in summer of 2019 and implementation required this year, Minnesota schools are on the edge of a new era of education; new standards like the Next Generation Science Standards are more interdisciplinary than any other. The new MN science standards were intentionally developed to be the most equitable way of teaching science by engaging all learners in DOING and BEING scientists and applying that learning to real life situations. We know this style of teaching and learning is necessary for youth to have the knowledge and skills to lead climate solutions and resilience in their communities.

Not to mention, with the passing of the Solar for Schools grant program in 2021 and the clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), renewable energies at Minnesota’s schools are more accessible than ever. The new science standards and funds for renovating school infrastructure offer the ideal platform to focus on the practice of doing science and engineering, and the inclusion of more environmental and earth science content than in the past. 

As more schools and cities add renewable energy as an electricity source, there is an opportunity and need to integrate renewable energy and green jobs skills into our classrooms. 

Last year, for the first time, renewable energy was Minnesota’s largest power generation source, providing nearly a third of Minnesota’s electricity. Nationally, the renewable and environmental job sector grew by 237% in the U.S. over the last five years. This green economy on the rise will not only lower CO2 emissions but it could also uplift economically marginalized communities. To ensure an equitable transition, youth need green skills that support technical and social transformation. By offering place-based, STEM experiences learners can experience climate agency and learn the science processes needed to build a future that allows their communities to thrive. 

Using Climate Generation’s existing instructional resources, like Green Careers for a Changing Climate and our new Green Professionals in the Classroom program, TeachScience teachers will receive resources and support, highlighting the renewable energy infrastructure in their school or in their community and creating the opportunity of to connect with local green professionals.

The Energy Landscape and Climate Change

It’s no secret that the U.S. creates most of its electricity by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, or gas. When the locked-up energy of these resources is changed into electricity, carbon dioxide is expelled into the atmosphere along with other byproducts contributing to climate change. Today, electricity production is the number one source for greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to 25% of heat-trapping emissions globally.

The electricity system that we use today is old! 70 percent of the electricity grid’s transmission lines and power transformers are more than 25 years old, and the average age of power plants is more than 30 years old. Extreme weather events and irregular weather patterns exacerbated by climate change make this vulnerable electricity grid a threat to people’s lives and everyday routines. What would you do without electricity for a day? A week? A month? What circumstances would make that harder or easier to get by? 

People around the country are experiencing disproportionate hardship due to our inefficient electricity systems, which create high costs for basic energy needs. As of 2017, 13% or 15.9 million of U.S. households face a severe energy burden, paying more than 10% of household income on energy costs. That is a $7,000 heating and electricity bill for median income households in Minnesota each year. Even worse, energy burdens almost always affect low-income families more so than others. In the U.S., 60% or 15.4 million of low-income households face a severe energy burden. These households are disproportionately People of Color. Living in drafty houses with old heaters, poorly maintained apartments, and poorly insulated mobile homes not only costs more to keep warm, but puts families at health risks from cold drafts, mold, and noxious fumes or fire hazards from alternative heating sources. 

Production of electricity must move away from fossil fuels and our current electricity system must be reimagined to be resilient, to meet modern demands and to keep costs low.

Equitable Energy and Green Careers

A clean energy economy requires generating energy that produces no greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, diversifying energy supply to renewable sources, and recreating a system that is more flexible and democratic. Public demand for more sustainable development practices and decreasing prices of renewable energies are driving the development of the clean energy economy. At the same time, new ideas of how to structure the electricity system are emerging. For example, Indigenous energy leaders like Solar Bear are using innovative solutions like flexible grids for energy transmission and effective energy storage methods to better balance electricity supply with demand and to bring electricity to locations where there is no existing structure. 

Creative and flexible solutions that meet the needs of disproportionately impacted communities can be used in every neighborhood to curb energy costs and to make energy transmission more sustainable.

To transition our outdated and inefficient electricity grid to a new sustainable system that capitalizes on renewable energies, we need people! Specifically, we need people that are trained to work in careers that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment, conserve natural resources, and make the production of goods more environmentally friendly, also called green careers. The newly re-imagined energy system will require many new green professionals, all of whom need education and training.

It is imperative that we build a clear, well-marked path from education to careers to create possibilities for students to work in the renewable energy fields and lead community-based solutions for thriving futures.

Climate Generation is uniquely suited to lead this work, as we center engaging communities in solutions to climate change rooted in education. For 15 years, we have supported educators to teach climate change and worked with students to lead solutions in their own communities. We bring together partners across sectors and specialties to shape relevant local projects that make their communities ready for a future with climate change. 

A just transition to a clean energy economy is a chance to close Minnesota’s education and workforce gap, bringing green jobs to all communities who have been hurt and impacted by fossil fuels and climate change so they can shape our future with climate justice. A big thanks to the LCCMR for investing in students and educators to steward Minnesota’s resources into the future!

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).