It's Time to Add Global Warming to Our Kids' Curriculum

Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House during his first visit to the United States yesterday, Pope Francis delivered a warning and challenge to the American people: "Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation." As the father of a 4-year-old girl, this message hits especially close to home.

This week presents an opportune time to act on Pope Francis' words. The Pope's visit, which coincides with Climate Week and the one-year anniversary of the People's Climate March in New York City, makes climate change an issue for discussion and concern across the world.

You might not know it if you paid much attention to the New York State Senate.

Despite the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that anthropogenic -- or man-made -- climate change is occurring, some colleagues in Albany apparently remain skeptical.

In April, Senate Republicans rejected a resolution I submitted on Earth Day, stripping the term "climate change" from the text. When I objected on the floor of the Senate, a member of the GOP leadership from Syracuse countered that his city's recent cold winter had proven that the phenomenon isn't real.

The new Senate majority leader himself agreed, saying to a reporter: "Based on the winter we just had, you say to yourself, are we really going through climate change?"

According to 97 percent of climate scientists, the answer is yes. Nine out of the ten warmest years ever have occurred since 2000, and last winter was the warmest in recorded history.

While there's little we can do outside the ballot box to combat the climate change skepticism that permeates the upper echelons of Albany, we can educate our children about one of the defining issues of our time. As Pope Francis said in his recent encyclical on the environment, "education can bring about real changes."

But our education standards need a reality check.

Alarmingly, current New York State learning standards for science education were adopted almost 20 years ago - during the first Clinton Administration. We know a great deal more about global climate change than we did two decades ago, and should update our science curriculum accordingly.

It's good news, then, that the New York State Education Department is in the process of developing new science learning standards -- which will likely be released for public review and comment later this year.

Among the standards under consideration is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have already been adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia. The NGSS is a set of K-12, internationally-benchmarked science education guidelines that includes sections on global climate change and human contributions to it.

Under the standards, the science of and facts surrounding climate change would be taught starting in middle school. By high school, students would examine the effects of human activity on climate change. And in an effort to encourage critical thinking and inquiry-based problem solving on the issue, the NGSS focuses less on fact memorization and instead emphasizes scientific process -- analyzing empirical observations to formulate and test hypotheses.

Though New York was one of 26 states that participated in the development of the NGSS, we have yet to adopt it.

Whether we implement the NGSS or a modified version, it's crucial that New York adopt some kind of science education standards that include a strong component on climate change. Doing so will help advance our understanding of climate change and better equip future generations to fight its harmful effects.

Time is of the essence. The New York City Panel on Climate Change, which relied on sophisticated, cutting-edge scientific modeling, projected that without adequate intervention, sea levels will rise by as much as six feet by the end of this century. Just last week, NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) declared that summer 2015 was the hottest on record.

We've already gotten the disaster movie preview of what's likely to come. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 -- which destroyed more than a quarter million homes, crippled New York's public transportation system and killed at least 100 people -- showed that the effects of a changing climate can be immediate, violent, and deeply personal. Imagine the impact of such a storm when sea levels are six feet higher than they are today.

Thankfully, New Yorkers are getting the message even while many of their elected representatives continue to stick their heads in the sand.

A March 2014 Siena College survey found that a vast majority - 66 percent - of New Yorkers believed that major storms that hit the East Coast over the previous two years were a result of climate change. According to a June 2015 Pew Research Center poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe global warming is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem - up from 63 percent in 2010.

Global climate change is a looming catastrophe for the planet. The New York State Education Department should move swiftly to adopt comprehensive and robust science standards that emphasize the dangers and impacts of man-made climate change so that future leaders of New York - including my daughter's generation - have the knowledge and tools to address the issue.

Brad Hoylman is the State Senator for New York's 27th District and Ranking Member of the New York State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee