On Oct. 26, the Maine Legislative Council voted on which bills will be considered during the second session, which are limited to emergency measures – just days ahead of the opening of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The climate crisis is an emergency.  This is something so many Mainers know, see and experience on a daily basis. Our cod and shrimp have fled, our lobster are fleeing, browntail moths and emerald ash borers are here to stay, our moose are succumbing to winter ticks and our farmers are dealing with severe drought. When voting on bills for the emergency session, the Legislative Council moved forward bills that request disaster relief for potato farmers and communities affected by browntail moths but failed to recognize the gravity of the climate emergency that underlies these disasters.

Four climate-centered bills were submitted, though none received enough votes to be considered by the full Legislature.

One bill that has yet to advance is LR 2327, An Act to Encourage Climate Change Education in Maine Public Schools, sponsored by Rep. Lydia Blume of York. However, it has been submitted for appeal and the Legislative Council gets another chance to reconsider the emergency status of climate change education. The Legislative Council gets another chance to consider the gravity of the climate crisis, the support needed by Maine teachers and students, the future impacts of federal legislation and the needs of Maine’s workforce in a rapidly changing world, and to act with urgency.

Students and teachers need support now. As the pandemic stretches on, teachers and students need support for their mental and physical well-being. Most climate education takes place outdoors and with community partners – proven ways to meet academic and social and emotional development needs in these trying times. Helping youth feel like they can make a difference is a powerful tool to combat common feelings of hopelessness.

• Maine teachers need support to meet the state’s own educational requirements. Since Maine adopted Next Generation Science Standards in 2019, teachers have called for professional development support in teaching to the standards, which include numerous climate change education standards. As Maine continues to develop educational resources for Maine teachers in 2021, the lack of professional development has become significant barrier to meeting these standards.

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• Maine needs to be ready to take full advantage of federal funding opportunities. The federal Build Back Better Act includes $20 million in competitive grants for climate education. With strong climate education community partnerships with schools, Maine will be better positioned to receive support through this legislation.

• Maine workforce development efforts depend on a well-prepared education. Efforts to build a green economy begin with young people inspired to pursue new career paths. Climate education provides a strong foundation for youth to choose a career connected to Maine’s natural resources – in agriculture, fishing, forestry, science and engineering, renewable energy and other key industries.

• “Maine Won’t Wait: A Plan for Climate Action” recommends action on climate education in 2021. This plan promised to launch a process in 2021, with key stakeholders including students, older youth, educators and state leaders. LR 2327,  Blume’s bill, is the only proposal on the table that would advance this key priority close to the original timeline.

As report after report from COP26 states that the agreements being made on a global scale are not enough to stop catastrophic climate change, it is evident that we must take the urgency, or emergency status, of this challenge seriously on a local level.

On Oct. 26, the Legislative Council voted in a way that failed to reflect the state of emergency that Maine students and teachers feel every day. Fortunately, the Legislative Council has a real opportunity to lead the way and recognize the state of our overburdened teachers, the needs of our students experiencing climate dread and our changing climate as the emergencies they are. If we only label the impacts of our changing climate as emergencies, they will break our state financially while leaving it vulnerable to worse.

With the Legislative Council’s support Nov. 18, we can bring the question of climate education support to the full Legislature, opening an opportunity for some relief and action in the midst of an ongoing and worsening crisis.


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