Archive for April, 2010

Raising and Educating Global Citizens

Climate change represents the greatest challenge—and opportunity– humanity has ever faced. Today’s children will require a new set of well-developed strengths, qualities and competencies in order to thrive in the age of global warming. How will we cultivate the necessary competencies and qualities?

How are we preparing the next generation to work, live and lead in the world that Thomas Friedman so aptly describes in his must-read book, Hot, Flat and Crowded?

The challenges on the horizon are detailed in a report released in November, 2008 by the National Intelligence Council entitled, “Global Trends 2025.” This stunning report portrays a world unlike anything we’ve known, in part because of the scale and scope of global social, economic, environmental and resource challenges. They anticipate a world in which we have rogue– even criminal– states and widespread wars over water, food and energy. Not surprisingly, they highlight the need for science and technology advances. Finally, they articulate the leadership opportunities afforded by this world transformed. Do we see an educational call to action here?

On a more experiential basis, the wildfires in the Los Angeles area in November 2008 highlight the ways that climate change impacts all social classes. Multimillion dollar mansions as well as trailer parks were leveled. And if you live in a trailer park, how hard is that loss going to hit? The UCLA Medical Center loat power – babies were delivered in the dark. Imagine that you’re the head of that hospital? Imagine that you’re the physician delivering the baby? Imagine that you’re the mother? Imagine that you run the Fire Department? Imagine that you run a corporation?

Regardless of where we live, we are impacted– already. In the Midwest, we have flooding from heavy rainfalls. Recall the picture of the bridge on the Mississippi River with homes crushed against it. Think of the Cubs being flooded out. In the Southeast, think drought. Anywhere on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, think fierce hurricanes and rising sea levels. Think Hurricane Ike which at one point was 600 miles wide. Hard to wrap our minds around, but we can and must in order to cope—and to prepare our future workforce and leaders to cope with a whole new world.

For instance, within our children’s lifetimes, we will be adapting to the presence of millions “climate refugees” who will be displaced by rising sea levels in coastal areas both here and abroad. How will we will we accommodate a whole new influx of people who arrive all at once from very different cultures? What will this mean for our social relations? How do we prepare our children for that new social world?

Another example: Water shortages are projected within the next few decades, even adjacent to vast Great Lakes. Water shortages can be hard to imagine when we’re sitting next to the Great Lakes which represent 90% of the world’s fresh water. But lake levels are down, and demand is up, and projected to rise yet further. And much of Chicagoland gets its water from underground aquifers that are drying up. Further, over a third of the US has recently been in drought. Last year, Atlanta came within 100 days of running out of water—with no backup.

The right to the use of the Great Lakes water is determined by Supreme Court Consent Decree. The States and Canadian Provinces that share the shores of the Great Lakes are each given a certain allotment. And that water can’t be sold, for instance, to the Chinese– which almost happened a few years ago. But such decrees may be revisited. And when they are, will we be prepared to address the moral dimension of deciding who gets access to 90% of the world’s fresh water when the much of the rest of the world is dealing with water shortages?

As a psychologist, as a parent and as a climate change expert , I would suggest that we are entrusted to prepare our children to …

be able to think systemically about complex inter-related problems.

be outstanding team players and collaborators.

be very tech, math and science savvy in order to innovate the solutions we need
to adapt to and manage new climate conditions.

have outstanding creative problem solving skills.

be resilient and flexible.

face loss and disappointment.

be informed about the policies that affect our climate and prepared to use
their voices because we can’t conserve our way out of these challenges

value nature and its resources.

have strong moral and ethical sense in order to make ethically challenging decisions
about stressed resources such as water.

be avid conservationists.

be compassionate and display grace under pressure.

have a sense of “enoughness” so that they can appreciate they have.

display generosity of spirit.

Most of these qualities may seem like nothing out of the ordinary. In a sense, they are the basic tenets of the world’s major religious traditions. They might seem like the essence of good education.

But are we educating our children with cultivation of these qualities and competencies in sharp focus?

These competencies are essential to preparing the next generation to manage the challenges our young people will face.As a society, as parents, as educators, as civic leaders thinking about our future workforce and leaders, we need to think carefully about not just what we teach our children about conservation and science but about how to get along in a world that is very different from what we have previously known.

This is not just about the substance of what we teach but how we teach– but that’s another conversation. We have an opportunity to prepare our children to thrive. Are we seizing that opportunity?

April 22, 2010 at 8:14 pm

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