Securing Our Planet’s Future Through Climate and Environmental Literacy

By Marwa Abdelghani|September 22, 2022

Approximately 400 climate activists gathered in person and virtually last week to recommit to the fight for environmental literacy in PK–12 education systems across California. Ten Strands was proud to join our partners at the Environmental and Climate Change Literacy Projects (ECCLPs) (Re)Launch event to re-engage major collaborators in climate and environmental literacy, justice, and action at UC Irvine’s (UCI) Research Park. ECCLPs, our partnership with the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and community organizations, is championing the creation of a first-of-its-kind collaboration to meet the urgent need to advance climate and environmental literacy in PK–12 instruction by significantly expanding the opportunities of every child in California to learn about climate change and to have the tools to affect positive social action.

Whether it be severe storms, massive wildfires, deadly tsunamis, or hurricanes, our planet is in jeopardy and it is up to us to equip tomorrow’s leaders—today’s youth—with the knowledge they need to mitigate and adapt to the dangerous impacts of climate change that is the reality of our future.

Ten Strands CEO Karen Cowe spoke at the relaunch, centering us in our purpose: building relationships in community. “At Ten Strands, we focus on building strategic partnerships at the intersections of education, environment, and community to advance student environmental literacy and action” she said.

From left to right: Matt St. Clair (Chief Sustainability Officer, UC Office of the President), Karen Cowe (CEO, Ten Strands), Kelley Lê (Executive Director, ECCLPs) Richard Arum (Professor of Education, UCI), Claudia Martinez (Executive Director of Educator Programs, UC Office of the President).

The future of ECCLPs would not be possible without the generous support of UCI’s friend and partner, Stacey Nicholas of Captain Enterprises LLC and a UCI Foundation Trustee. Stacey gifted UCI’s School of Education with $3 million to advance projects that will improve environmental and climate change literacy in California’s classrooms. Read more about Stacey and her generous contribution here.

“Reading every day about environmental dangers, I feel a sense of urgency like never before,” said Stacey. “Education is fundamental to our future as a planet.”

It is clear now more than ever that the environment impacts individuals from every walk of life, no matter where they come from. And most of all, they impact children and families in low-income communities and communities of color. Last week’s event reignited the work to continue to advance environmental literacy for students from a very young age.

“Our future depends on two things,” said Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at UCI. “Bending the curve now to slow down the onset of environmental collapse to give us more time to solve this problem, and educating young people with the competencies necessary to confront challenges they will regrettably encounter in the future.”

Jacque Nunez, teacher, master storyteller, and member of the Acjachemen Nation, the native land of Orange County where Irvine is located, kicked off the event acknowledging the native land of Irvine, grounding us in our collective purpose to protect Mother Earth.

The relaunch event gave new meaning to the environmental education and justice space, and that is: youth are the leaders of tomorrow and we must continue to instill the importance of environmental literacy in PK–12 public education across the state. Youth are involved in protecting their environment and the planet now more than ever. Instilling environmental literacy in our youth means that we are guaranteeing the protection of our planet for many more years to come.

Nalleli Cobo, youth leader in the environmental justice space and co-founder of the South Los Angeles Youth Leadership Coalition, shared with attendees her moving story about how she grew up living across the street from an oil well, which led her to develop many health conditions that impacted her well-being, including asthma, which later developed into cancer. Her story emphasized how the environment is a key social determinant of the health of children, which can severely impact their future.

Attendees listening to founder and CEO of The Ocean Agency, Richard Vevers.

We heard from speakers across the board on issues of environmental justice and literacy—from climate change being a racial justice issue to learning about our oceans and the life-giving creatures that live within that we must continue to protect. We were also joined by our partners in higher education, including Michael V. Drake, UC president; Howard Gillman, UCI chancellor; Jolene Koester, CSU chancellor; Frances Contreras, UCI school of education dean and professor; and Claudia Martinez, executive director of educator programs at UC’s office of the president. We were delighted to also have deputy superintendent of public instruction for the California Department of Education, Cheryl Cotton, speak at the event.

We were excited to hear the announcement of Kelley Lê’s new position as ECCLPs’ newly appointed executive director! Kelley has been a key leader and thought partner in the development and relaunch of ECCLPs, and she is a Ten Strands board member. We look forward to continuing the work with her to champion the fight against climate change in her new capacity.

“How do we humanize these stories in a way that will inspire action?” asked Kelley, who is also the UC Irvine Science Project’s executive director. “How can we communicate more effectively?”

The event lit a fire for an issue that, for far too long, has led many to feel desensitized toward the continued climate-change effects on our planet. Ten Strands is eager to work with our partners in ECCLPs to ensure our young learners are equipped with the tools and resources they need to understand how to protect their environments and ultimately, the planet. Incorporating environment-based education as a core part of PK–12 curricula in California will set us on a path toward a more equitable and sustainable future with a thriving planet where nature and people are more interrelated.

“We know that education is key to reversing climate change,” said Shireen Pavri, assistant vice chancellor of educator and leadership programs at the CSU chancellor’s office. “We must lean on each other to make this happen. It is only by joining forces that we can develop effective climate-change solutions.”

In October 2018, the UC and CSU systems joined with Ten Strands and other key partners with the goal for all of California’s high school students to be literate in environmental and climate-change issues and solutions. Strategies and recommendations for the university systems were published in a report that was showcased at the Environmental and Climate Change Literacy Projects launch event at UCLA in December 2019.

In March 2020, members of the steering committee met to prioritize and advance key recommendations in the report, which resulted in work on a concept paper proposing a joint UC–CSU center focused on climate and environmental justice literacy. After a brief pause to attend to the urgent needs of students, faculty, staff, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the ECCLPs Executive Committee continued to build on this work.

Click here to learn more about the ECCLPs (Re)Launch and our speakers and here to get involved! You can also watch a live stream of the event here.

Marwa Abdelghani
This article was written by Marwa Abdelghani

Marwa Abdelghani is a communications professional with eight years of experience in social impact and justice-oriented non-profit organizations. Her work has spanned the social sector across issue areas, including religious freedom, immigration, education, workforce development, health care and child health equity. Prior to joining Ten Strands, Marwa worked at The Children’s Partnership (TCP) where she led the communications strategy for policy, research and community engagement campaigns to advance children’s health. Before that, she worked at UNITE-LA and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, where she facilitated campaigns to inform and engage the business community on education policy and college access. Marwa began her career at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), where, for five years, she worked as a community organizer and media specialist, cultivating relationships with reporters and engaging them in improving the media landscape surrounding the American Muslim community. Marwa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Literary Journalism from the University of California, Irvine.