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Climate Justice in the Classroom

Originally appears in the Fall 2015 issue

When I was younger, I didn’t call myself an environmentalist; I still don’t really. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always cared about environmental issues. I recycle, carpool when I can, use my re-useable grocery bags, but was I (am I) an environmentalist? Nah – that label isn’t for me, nor is the responsibility and expectation that comes with it.

For a long time, I had the same kind of mixed relationship with the topic of climate change. I knew that it was happening, I knew what it was doing to our planet and to life on it, and like the vast majority of scientists and researchers,[i] I knew that we humans were the cause. However, the subject was not something I focused on; it was something that I chose to engage with sometimes, and chose to ignore other times. Its effects seemed far away, in a distant time and place, its causes seemed overwhelming and the distress of thinking about it seemed to outweigh the benefits.

My ambivalence with the topic changed when I discovered the movement for climate justice. More than just saving trees, protecting (often the cutest) animals, and enjoying and experiencing nature, climate justice recognized that climate change was a social equity issue, and a moral one. It named that the people suffering the most from the consequences of burning fossil fuels were the ones who contributed to, and benefited from them the least. It recognized that social equity, racial justice, historical responsibility, and functioning democracies all need to be a part of any viable plan to address climate change, and that all those things are worth focusing on and fighting for. More than that though, it saw that actions that reduce our carbon emissions and better adapt our communities to climate change are our best chance to ensure our long-term economic security and improve the lives of the poor and marginalized people of the world.

Working with the British Columbia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, I helped to develop a new climate justice resource for teachers to use in their classrooms. The resulting curriculum package[ii] includes eight highly interactive lessons designed for secondary students (and adaptable for grades six to eight) that explore climate change in the context of British Columbia’s communities, history, economy, and ecology. Looking at the issues through the lenses of fairness and equity, each lesson explores how we can chart a course forward to face the world’s climate challenges, and how that work can improve the lives of people throughout the country. It is a free resource, available both online and in print and can easily be adapted for cities and towns all over North America.

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Ryan Cho teaches at Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, BC.  He developed classroom Climate Justice Curriculum Resources for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, exploring how climate change issues connect to the issues of inequity and fairness in British Columbia.  Previously he worked as a Curriculum Coordinator for the Pearson Seminar on Youth Leadership. Ryan currently sits on the anti-poverty committee with the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation Committee for Action on Social Justice. As a writer, Ryan received a Golden Leaf Award from the Canadian Educational Press Association for his piece Privatization and privilege comes at a price.

The Climate Justice Curriculum Package, including 8 modules with embedded videos, downloadable graphics, Power Points, print-friendly PDFs, and additional resources is available free to use and adapt at The following lesson is Module #7 in the unit and draws on Climate Justice Project research including: Avoiding Collapse: An agenda for sustainable degrowth and relocalizing the economy

A Green Industrial Revolution: Climate Justice, Green Jobs and Sustainable Production in Canada