March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Consider the Source: The Mandate

Downed tree on the way to New Canaan Library, CT.

The day after Hurricane Sandy, my wife and I walked around our town. We’d been fortunate. Even though a fallen tree blocked our street, with every sort of power line beneath it, we had power and water and even TV and Internet. Our house was filled with neighbors charging their cell phones and craving hot coffee.

As we picked our way past trees and police tape and fallen wires, we saw home after home darkened, trees upended across yards, porches, and roofs. We finally reached my 92-year-old mother, who was trapped in her cold, powerless home, and my mother-in-law, who was even more imprisoned in an apartment with neither power nor running water. I’m sure you’ve all had similar experiences or have seen images such as these, and far worse.

The storm brought change. We all also saw President Obama and New Jersey Governor Christie work together—an image of what our nation could be and should be. And that brings me to the main point of this column. I believe that students in every school in America should address the following question: Are human actions changing our climate? And if they are, how? What can we do about it?

We’re living amidst wild nature. Is that due to climate change? What could be a more perfect Common Core question? What could be more central to our lives, and our students’ futures? To address these questions, kids need to use science, history, economics, ecology, biology, math, and social action—they can read dystopian novels such as Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (Little, Brown, 2010) or M. T. Anderson’s Feed (Candlewick, 2002). These are questions on which experts disagree. That’s perfect. We’re not preaching to our students, we are engaging them in answering a question that’s as central to their generation as civil rights was to mine. Why should schools focus on anything else? Students will learn every required skill, but not as textbook abstractions, rather as the central issues facing us, all of us, right now and in the future.

I urge you, readers, make the case to your school. Or, if the teachers and administration are too pressed by tests to add a new unit, start a display in your library: Is human-induced climate change leading to catastrophic weather? Include books, print-outs from websites and magazines, and ads. (The New York Times has a fine set of learning resources about Sandy.) Then invite kids to add their notes, comments, and questions. Build it and they will come—and you’ll be the agent asking the key questions that must be asked… and answered.

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Marc Aronson About Marc Aronson

Marc Aronson is a Rutgers University lecturer in the School of Communication and Information and the author of many notable nonfiction titles for children and young adults including, The Skull in the Rock, winner of the 2013 Subaru Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His book The Griffin and the Scientist (with Adrienne Mayor) will be published in April 2014. He was the first recipient of the Robert F. Sibert medal from the American Library Association for excellence in nonfiction writing for youth.

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  1. As a science writer, one subject I write about is climate change. There is more research on this topic than any other that I have ever pursued. The more I learn, the more I realize we as a nation need to unite and do something about it. It is disturbing how much misinformation is out there and how the heart of the matter is buried in mud slinging. Although you may think it is impossible to find out what the Earth’s atmosphere was like 100, or even 1,000 years ago. Scientists use ice cores, corals, tree rings and cave deposits to find this information. There is a mountain of evidence of past levels of carbon dioxide, which have never been as high as they are now. Every single one of us can do something about it.

    The lack of election coverage on this topic prompted me to write an editorial on why climate change is important to address. It was published on 11/11 in the Hartford Courant. If you are interested, you can find it on my website (

  2. Karlan Sick says:

    I remember helping junior high students work on reports in the 80s about climate change. I was surprised that adult friends 15 years later knew nothing about it. Many science teachers were encouraging young students to question climate problems before the general public became aware of trouble.