Chapter 4: Solutions: Envisioning Sustainability And Resilience

AS YOU DIVE INTO REGENERATION AND RESILIENCE STRATEGIES (A.K.A. SOLUTIONS), IT HELPS TO REMIND STUDENTS THAT THESE ARE NOT ALWAYS ABOUT INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES. In fact, many rely on changing everyday human behavior, but all are about bringing the world back to life through compassion and transformative actions that students can be part of. Our job is to help young learners feel empowered by understanding what is possible and why.

What this is

If you want to understand climate solutions, this is the place to start—Climate Solutions 101. The videos below are a self-study with helpful images, data, arguments, and explicit language about the approaches to regeneration and resilience. Note: In the book I make the case against referring to these as “solutions” in educational settings. The term can suggest to students that these are self-contained projects or technologies that work unproblematically to resolve discrete climate problems. In reality, everything from reducing food waste to green hydrogen involves multiple sectors (local governments, education, industry, transportation, etc.), is only partially effective and only under certain conditions, are entangled with financial and pragmatics trade-offs, tempered by uncertainty about social acceptance and fuzziness about who benefits most. I use the phrases “regeneration or resilience strategies” to better specify to what ends the action is intended and to communicate that these are moves within a larger ecosystem of changes that must work together in ways that are transparent to human communities. I’m not trying to second-guess the Drawdown people, they are providing educators with many tools and many ideas consistent with sustainability and social justice.

Why this matters to students

As you and your colleagues work through this mini-course, you can spot big ideas that are worth bringing to your students. You can also identify segments to share with students if the narrators might say it all better than you might. For secondary students, the language and examples are well within their grasp, especially if you identify scaffolds they might need to make sense together.

What this is

The good news is, we have what we need: a science-based set of technologies and practices that are currently available, financially viable, and able to scale, and have been calculated to be able to together stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

What’s been missing until now is an organized plan that can actually get the job done. Viable climate solutions have been like orchestra members lacking a conductor… a kitchen full of ingredients without a cook … a collection of words awaiting a writer.

The Drawdown folks describe a five-part plan, developed with input from scientists, policymakers, corporate executives, and funders – that lays out how we can strategically apply existing solutions to halt climate change in our lifetimes by prioritizing across sectors, time, and geography, while maximizing co-benefits and eliminating barriers.

How you might use this with students

There are a series of videos on the page linked above that give you an idea of how some people see different solutions being prioritizes, vetted by different communities, and put into action in a coordinated way. This can help students see that we need to “pull all the levers” but to be smart about how they work together. Uncharacteristically, the themes of social justice are not as prominent in the Roadmap framework. Secondary students could read these materials as part of a larger unit and see where it should have a presence (everywhere actually) and how it could be made more explicit.

Teaching about soil as carbon sink using graphic art and storylines

Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is a soil biogeochemistry professor at the University of California, Merced. Her graphic storyboard—What’s Soil Got to do with Climate Change?— focuses on the role of working lands and their soils as carbon sinks, and how they can either be a part of the problem or a regenerative solution to climate change. The creative images make complex ideas about the sequestration of carbon more accessible to students of all ages and remind us to engage learners with as many diverse modalities of information as we can.

What this is

An innovative high school educator asked her students to select one type of geoengineering to do research on and present to class—as either unfeasible/dangerous or promising enough to test out. This one is about pumping deep ocean water to the surface to stimulate plankton growth and let their photosynthesis processes drive down carbon dioxide levels in the ocean and atmosphere.

Why this might be helpful for students

The students in this classroom got to explore a range of geoengineering possibilities, from the up-welling engineering feat described above to putting mylar umbrellas in space. They were asked to provide the risks and benefits, to think critically about whose interests would be served and what the costs would be. The groups learned from each other as they responded to one another’s proposal analyses.

As I mention throughout the book, regeneration & resilience strategies involve as many science, engineering, and equity ideas as do the problems of climate change themselves. One example is the development of massive batteries, which will address the bottleneck in use of renewables—how do we store the energy from technologies like wind turbines or solar panels when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing? To see six strange but promising examples, check this out.

Smart Surfaces Guide: The path to a ‘cooler‘ future with smarter design for urban surfaces (big download of guidebook). As is often the case, some informational guides are made for businesses and policymakers but these can be used by teachers or even students to take deeper dives into, in this case, the science of surfaces. A research team at the Carnegie Mellon University developed a Smart Surfaces Guidebook for city policymakers to use as a decision-making guide. Rapid urbanization is replacing natural land with dark, impervious surfaces. This has led to dire urban consequences including rising temperatures and stormwater deluge, resulting in significantly higher energy costs, greater stormwater damage, and associated health and comfort impacts. These issues can be mitigated using smart surfaces, those with high reflectivity and permeability, which can achieve sustainable and regenerative cities.

How to get the world to net zero. This is a different take from the Drawdown folks about achieving net zero, told in graphic and downloadable format.

This policy brief: Challenges and Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples’ Sustainability, provides examples of the holistic perspective of indigenous peoples on resource governance, land rights, mitigation of climate change impact on their environment and resilience-building through the use of their traditional knowledge. It also highlights the benefit of indigenous peoples’ full participation, in particular, indigenous women in decision- making processes to prevent conflict. UN/DESA Policy Brief #101.

Climate solutions do exist. These 6 experts detail what they look like. Scientists say there’s a lot we can still do to slow the speed of climate change. But when it comes to “climate solutions”, some are real, and some aren’t, says Naomi Oreskes, historian of science at Harvard University. “This space has become really muddied.” So how does someone figure out what’s legit? Julia Simon of NPR asked six climate scholars for the questions they ask themselves whenever they come across something claiming to be a climate solution.

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