September 24, 2019

Organizing a Climate Impact Teach-In

Posted by Laura Guertin

The Global Climate Strike has passed, the UN Youth Climate Summit has concluded, and Climate Week NYC is underway (Sept. 23-29, 2019). Several events took place and resources were newly/recently released that you may have missed. I’ll be calling attention to some of these in a week of blog posts dedicated to climate conversations (see #climateconversations2019).


I saw the momentum building. I heard the chatter of people on my campus. There was a Global Climate Strike coming, and people wanted to know where and what time, were we going to have a walkout on campus, etc. But as a scientist and the only Earth scientist on my campus, a different set of questions entered my mind – do people really understand what the strike is about? Do people really know what it means when they hear “climate emergency” or even “climate change”?

From left to right, members of the AGU Voices for Science: Dr. Adrienne Oakley, Dr. Laura Guertin, Dr. Rusty Low *yes, I am wearing the climate change data dress from Shenova Fashion!

So I decided to take the initiative and set up a full-day Climate Impact Teach-In, scheduled for the day before the Global Climate Strike. I wanted to do my part to make sure there was some education on the basics of climate, but most importantly, for everyone to understand the relevance of not only knowing and understanding climate, but why it is important to them as individuals, to our community, and to society as a whole. Keep in mind that my campus had never held a teach-in, and I had certainly never organized one. But the resources and support available made for a pretty incredible day, open to all students/staff/faculty and the local community.

I started by posting on AGU Connect to see if anyone had any ideas or suggestions for how I could proceed. I figured I would start with the communities I was a part of – Voices For Science, Sharing Science, then the general community. I had to go no further than the Voices for Science group when Dr. Rusty Low (Institute for Global Environmental Strategies) answered my call for help! Then another member of the Voices for Science group, Dr. Adrienne Oakley (Kutztown University) offered to drive in and assist for the day. I was excited to have additional Earth science representation for the event!

My psychology colleague Dr. Margaret Signorella presenting on the UN Sustainable Development Goals – along with her own climate haiku!

But then emails started coming in from my colleagues. First, it was colleagues that felt they had nothing to contribute but wanted to volunteer in some way to help with the day. Then, I had faculty colleagues from biology, business, and psychology that offered to lead sessions on how climate connects to their disciplines. Very quickly, I was able to complete a schedule with talks, hands-on sessions (thanks to Dr. Low teaching students how to use the NASA Globe Observer app), and short TED Talks and discussions. During the lunch hour, we had interactive stations that asked students to create a data visualization with air quality data from Philadelphia, challenged students to write a climate haiku, play with Mosquito Tellers and Zika Zap Bingo, and view examples of science and art (some of the materials I’ve crocheted and quilted).

I also have to give a shout-out to the AGU Science Policy staff, who I contacted via email and provided me with some ideas for a postcard advocacy table at the Teach-In. We decided to write postcards to our U.S. Senators to support S.1067 – Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 and our U.S. Representatives to support H.R.1709 – Scientific Integrity Act. My campus library has put together an excellent Postcard Advocacy LibGuide to help students and anyone else that wishes to write to their elected officials beyond the Teach-In.

The evening session was a screening of the NOVA/PBS movie Decoding the Weather Machine. A full schedule for the Climate Impact Teach-In, along with links to most of the resources shared, are available online:

So what did I learn from this day of teaching and learning? In short, people want to know what is happening, people want to ask questions and share their own knowledge, and people want to contribute and get involved. Over 150 attended throughout the day. And those that could not attend even made connections in their classes. For example, one of my psychology colleagues decided to spend all her lectures that day talking about the psychological impacts of climate, especially post-natural disaster. The business faculty member that presented immediately went and has organized the campus to participate in next month’s EcoChallenge. One student started using the NASA Globe Observer LandCover app the next day at the Global Climate Strike in Philadelphia, and she was able to show the app to a member of the Philadelphia City Council, who wants her to follow-up by sending more information to get more Philadelphia residents involved in collecting data. And I’m sure there are many more positive outcomes that I have yet to hear or may never hear.

I’m already hearing that there will be more marches and “activations” as we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. Time to start thinking about my educational/outreach/communication goals for the next semester…