GV hosts first climate change education summit


Audrey Whitaker, Staff Reporter

The Climate Change Education Solutions Network held its first climate change education summit Friday, June 12 on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus. Since May 2018, the Climate Change Education Solutions Network has been working to bring informative, relevant and reliable information to classrooms, said Elena Lioubimtseva, GVSU professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Sustainable Planning.

“We bounced a number of different ideas in May 2018 and really two topics came back,” Lioubimtseva said. “The first idea was our website, and the second idea was to have the summit.”

The event featured three keynote speakers, panel discussions and workshops for the 160 teachers in attendance.

“The program was definitely a success,” Lioubimtseva said. “We would like to do it every year. We’re already looking into forming the next planning committee, discussing who would be potential speakers and so on.”

Keynote speaker Jessica Thompson, associate professor of communications at Northern Michigan University, said that the event approached climate issues with optimism and allowed attendees to engage with the material.

“So many of these climate meetings say ‘Here’s the data,’ ‘This is how things are changing,’ ‘We’re going to experience more storms, more populations are vulnerable,’ ‘There’s more disease, there’s more threats,'” Thompson said. “It’s really overwhelming. What’s cool about the Grand Valley meeting is that it was really empowering.” 

Thompson said the event focused on developing curriculum for classrooms in the hopes of instilling the importance of sustainability and value of natural resources in students early on.

“It was like, here’s fifteen minutes on some of the impacts,” Thompson said. “Here’s an entire day on things we can do to live lighter on the planet, to reduce our carbon footprint, to engage children with nature and appreciating the value of ecosystems. I think that’s the sweet spot right there.”

Keynote speaker Sarah Duffer, an earth and environmental science teacher from North Carolina, said that although the data can be alarming, it’s important to be aware of the facts in order to develop solutions.

“We find that much more inspiring, and so I think that that’s really where the focus increasingly needs to be,” Duffer said.

Duffer said that youth advocacy is an inspiring and powerful trend she has seen begin many movements, and hopes people of all ages will play their role in the fight for sustainability.  

“We have 10 years to make radical changes and to decrease the impacts of climate change and the youth of today have really internalized that,” Duffer said.  “There is no more passing of the torch. They’re really energized to affect change, whether increasing the awareness of sexual violence, or income inequality or environmental justice.”

Lioubimtseva said she hopes to see sustainability and climate education grow as a movement for people of all ages.

“The mission of this group is to provide the best possible climate change education to everyone, all ages,” Lioubimtseva said. “I think what makes us different, probably from many other groups working on climate change, is that our primary solution to climate change is educating people about climate change.”