Raising a New Generation of Climate-Literate Students
People the world over already feel the pressures associated with environmental degradation and climate change. Those problems will only get worse for future generations as global temperatures rise, plastic and other toxic chemicals saturate the ecosystem, and species go extinct. That’s why Boise State University engages with young people like Boise High School student Shiva Rajbhandari.
In March of 2020, Rajbhandari organized an Earth Week event through the environmental advocacy group Extinction Rebellion. Due to the pandemic, that event never took place, but it did put him in contact with Boise State Prof. Jen Pierce of the Department of Geoscience and organizer of Idaho Climate Literacy Education Engagement & Research (I-CLEER). Together, they worked on Earth Day Live, a webcast about how the public can act on environmental issues despite the COVID-19-related lockdowns then in effect. One thing led to another.
“Dr. Pierce invited me to join I-CLEER and present at the American Geophysical Union, and I had the opportunity to speak at that and be a student voice,” Rajbhandari said.
I-CLEER is a Boise State program that educates Idaho communities on the causes, consequences and solutions to the Earth’s changing climate, and empowers them to take action. That can connect research with community-driven needs, cultivate climate leaders, and use interdisciplinary (and often creative) ways of reaching and activating new audiences.
It’s also thematically related to Pierce’s UF100 class on the causes and consequences of — and solutions to — climate change. In 2021, Rajbhandari decided to enroll in that class with some of his climate-oriented fellow high school students. What they didn’t count on was the cost of attending a class at Boise State. They reached out to actress and environmental activist Jane Fonda, who agreed to fund nine students’ enrollment in the class if they agreed to deliver a Greenpeace petition to Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson urging him to end fossil fuel subsidies.
Rather than conclude the class with an examination, Pierce told her students to embark on capstone projects: to develop interdisciplinary ways of presenting environmental problems to diverse audiences.
“It’s through these new disciplinary relationships centered on our earth that will move us forward when it comes to providing solutions,” Pierce said.
One student programmed a touchscreen to display climate change stories from students worldwide. Another organized a climate art summit. Rajbhandari devised a series of practical math problems using real-world environmental data, ranging from a 7th-grade level of proficiency to calculus. Since climate change and environmental degradation are global problems, he said, people should approach them from every angle, be it science, art or the humanities. Breaking down intellectual silos, Rajbhandari added, has done more than educate him: It has made him a better advocate.
“It’s not just that we took a class and learned about climate change,” he said. “We’ve all become better activists — more involved — and the work continues.
As Boise State prepares to launch its School of the Environment, we’ll release stories about students, faculty and alumni who teach, learn and work on this area of study as they strive to understand the thorny problems, ask tough questions and arrive at solutions surrounding the environment.