Chapter 7: The Way We Educate

The Children’s House and Adelaide’s World Saver

When it comes to climate change, some people get it and some don’t. Six year old Adelaide definitely gets it.

Adelaide is a student at The Children’s House, a Montessori based school located in northwest Indianapolis. Recently, Earth Charter’s Jim Poyser led a nine week session on climate change at the school. Among the many activities of the program, the children measured their carbon footprint, made bumper stickers and toured several sites where people are combating global warming.

Behind the school is a small wooded area. As part of their work, the children went there and imagined what would happen if all the trees disappeared. The result was a play called “The Great Children’s House Tree.” In this drama, each child becomes an animal and describes how they are affected by the loss of trees. The play will be presented on Nov. 25 at Marian University.

As a result of the climate change sessions, Adelaide drew the above diagram that describes how she sees the problem and what can be done about it. The drawing is to be followed starting at the bottom and from left to right moving upward. These are her comments about the pictures:

This shows what I am thinking about.

This is about cutting down trees. Birds live in trees and they lose their homes.

We throw trash into the water where fish live.

There are less trees every day and 10 people are born every day and there is less air for us to breathe.

We sweep away spider webs where spiders live.

We drink up the water that fish live in.

This is an axolotl. They need cold water. [An axolotl is an amphibian also known as a walking fish or Mexican salamander.]

Do you love birds? You already know that birds live in trees but they also build nests.

No more cutting down trees. Instead, dig a hole and put a tree seed and grow another tree.

I’m pretty sure animals are endangered from small birds to big whales

When plants die, take their seeds and plant them back.

Worms need water so if you see a worm on the sidewalk, pick it up.

Help me and my animals.

Adelaide added that because the polar ice caps are melting, Santa might not have a place to live. That, indeed, would be a great tragedy. May we all join Adelaide in saving Santa’s home and the rest of the planet.


Richard Clough

The Butler Way Guides Butler University to Substantial Sustainable Changes

On April 16th, 2012 Butler University President, James Danko, signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in reflection of The Butler Way – Butler’s “long-standing commitment to selflessness and integrity.” The ACUPCC commitments are mapped out in the Butler Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (BUSCA) as a guideline as it grows and implements its new strategic plan, Butler 2020.

The goal of the Butler Sustainability and Climate Action Plan is to achieve institutional climate neutrality by 2050 by mitigating campus greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy consumption of the university. The plan outlines current initiatives, strategies, and other goals set in place to reach the 2050 goal.

Some of Butler’s major past initiatives include its two LEED Gold certified buildings (Howard L Schrott Center for the Arts and College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Addition) and recently completed LEED Silver renovations to the Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. All new construction and major renovations moving forward must meet at minimum a LEED Silver standard. Gradually, motion sensor lighting is being implemented in rooms with infrequent occupancy and LED lighting is being given preference in all new projects.

In 2010, the Center for Urban Ecology (CUE) Farm was first planted on campus and it has since tripled in size, diversified its crops, and introduced bee houses to facilitate pollination. Produce harvested supplies Butler’s dining services and is sold to community members and local restaurants in Indianapolis.

Strategies broken down into education, research, and outreach all support Butler University’s mission to have a commitment to high-quality education and creating a stimulating intellectual community. Education strategies include conducting a university-wide audit of courses to allow for modification of courses that could fit into either sustainability-focused or sustainability-related categories. A research strategy is to encourage further research at sites on campus that include the CUE Farm, the Butler biodiesel production laboratory, and the campus green roof by providing opportunities to present their research. Outreach strategies include revising Butler’s sustainability website to reflect current and future projects related to the initiatives and designing a sustainability newsletter to be published on a regular basis.

Sustainability goals outlined in the plan revolved around the topics of water, land use, waste, food, and purchasing. Each of these categories is broken into short and mid-term goals that are recognized as sustainable goals for which greenhouse gas emissions were not calculated as part of the BUSCA, but are goals for the betterment of the university as a whole. Some goals include replacing all fixtures with low or no-flow fixtures, decreasing the use of de-icers, pesticides, and fertilizers, implementing single-stream recycling, increasing real food (locally grown, environmentally beneficial, humane, and fairly traded) to 20 percent of total food purchased, and becoming a fair trade university.

As President James Danko was the first Indianapolis university president to sign the ACUPCC he set precedence for other universities in the state of Indiana to do the same. With the contributions of 25 students, faculty, and staff the BUSCA has set a clear path of sustainability for the future of the university that can be, and should be, admired and reflected in other universities across the state.

View the entire plan here.

Marisa Heiling

Ivy Tech Culinary Arts Program

Ivy Tech’s Culinary Arts program in Indianapolis produces many of the area’s finest chefs. They learn the art and science of preparing superb food from Chef Thom England who has worked at the school since 2008. Chef England will teach them all about filling a plate with gourmet offerings. But just as importantly, all his students will come away with an awareness of the need to embrace environmentally sustainable practices in the operation of a restaurant. Historically, restaurants have produced massive quantities of waste. Check a restaurant dumpster  at the end of the day and you will typically  find huge quantities of food waste and paper products. But at Ivy Tech, the curriculum includes a 53 point statement of objectives that requires students to know how to buy local products, secure alternatives to non-recyclable items, know how to compost and to develop an appreciation for a kitchen herb garden. As part of their training they will realize the cost of putting things in the dumpster as well as the water that goes down the drain.  When these aspiring chefs have a restaurant of their own, they are unlikely to follow the wasteful practices of the past. 

Ivy Tech operates two restaurants in the former Stouffer’s Hotel building on Meridian St. Both follow principles of sustainability. Each kitchen has three bins for waste: one for recyclables, one for composting and one for the dumpster. The last one doesn’t get much use. Chef England proudly points to their compacting dumpster and says, “We used to have to empty it every week. Now it’s been eight months since we last had it emptied and it’s still got some space.”

A major reason that so little goes to the dumpster is “Oscar”, a large machine that grinds up both animal and vegetable waste as well as paper products of all kinds. The result is a compostable material that goes into the gardens behind the school. These gardens produce herbs and vegetables that will head back to the kitchen.

The environmentally sound practices at the school’s facility are a superb example of what an institution can do. But more importantly, Ivy Tech’s Culinary Arts program will create awareness in the students of the need to do things differently. Chef England believes that this will transform the culinary world.


Submitted by Richard Clough

Food. Farm. Future. 

The invitation came in the mail. You read that right: snail mail. With a postage stamp.

On the invitation’s cover: “Food. Farm. Future.” … with three illustrations: wheat, a farm tractor, and an outline of Indiana with a thought bubble suspended above. Inside, a handwritten note from Leah Sorg, a senior at Manchester Jr.-Sr. High School in North Manchester.

“Food. Farm. Future.” had no Eventbrite, no link to a Web site, Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account.

I’m surprised a carrier pigeon didn’t deliver it to me.

I was invited to this event because I know this school well, having visited a number of times over the past year and a half. The AP Environment Science teacher behind this invitation is Jabin Burnworth. Jabin is an exceptional educator. You had one of these teachers when you were in school. The one who was deeply invested in your education, and in your trajectory. The one who knew your parents; knew who and what you cared about. You made career and life decisions based on what learned from this teacher.

But this presentation, on March 25, in North Manchester, at the Junior High School, was not Jabin’s doing. It was his students’. They devised and implemented it.

What they accomplished that evening can be replicated throughout the state and beyond. The Great Divide

Late last year, Purdue release research entitled “Agricultural stakeholder views on climate change; Implications for conducting research and outreach.” A collaboration with Iowa State University, the authors, led by Purdue’s Linda Stalker Prokopy, detailed a familiar, disturbing, predicament.

While the majority of climate scientists say humans are creating climate change through carbon pollution, only a tiny minority of Midwestern farmers — eight percent — agrees that climate change is mostly attributable to humans. Instead, according to this study, the majority of farmers either believe that changes in climate are mostly natural (25%) or say there isn’t sufficient evidence to determine climate is even changing at all (31%).

On a global scale, we know 97% of climate scientists deeply understand the connection between greenhouse gases and climate change. The science is also clear that increasingly extreme weather will wreak havoc on our agricultural system. Yet there’s a great divide between this scientific community and the very people growing the food that we eat.

Studies like Purdue’s tend to put the onus on scientists to communicate better to the general populace, imagining, perhaps, that scientists have lots of extra time on their hands to come up with clever, non-threatening ways to massage their message

The question for many in the scientific community — and for those of us who are simply freaked out about our future — is how to get scientists and farmers together, to dialogue about our climate crisis, and determine ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

But maybe we don’t have to get scientists and farmers together.

Maybe we can rely on our kids.

Food. Farm. Future.

I walked into Manchester Junior High School just before the 7 p.m. start time.

North Manchester, for the record, is a rural community with a population around 6,000. It is located about two hours north of Indianapolis. The city of Wabash is just a few miles south; Fort Wayne is just under an hour away. The town itself is lovely, with mom & pop-owned shops and a quintessential, small-town feel.

I had visited this specific building once before. On Feb. 3, employees from the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture held a Farm2School meeting with the surrounding community.

Farm2School is a national initiative dedicated to getting locally sourced food into school cafeterias. The idea is that kids will eat better, less-processed food, learn about food miles and nutrition, and local farmers will enjoy an economic boost.

In attendance that day were over forty folks: farmers, school officials and Purdue Extension professionals, along with people like me, all of us interested in improving food systems in schools and supporting local economies.

North Manchester was picked for this Farm2School meeting because the high school cafeteria manager, Becky Landis, is a bit of an Indiana legend. She is deeply committed to Farm2School practices — even before she learned of the program she was getting students to eat locally grown food in her cafeteria.

Her students eat local produce in their salad bar on a consistent basis. The students know about it; and they know why it’s important

Which brings us to their “Food. Farm. Future.” event.

Each year, as part of the environmental science curriculum, Jabin’s students craft hand-written letters to their grandparents, asking them to describe what the land was like when they were their age. In response, the grandparents write letters, sometimes including photos as well.

I’ll pause here while you experience shivers running up your spine.

In a larger culture where elders are cast aside, in North Manchester, Indiana, they are respected and engaged.

This year for the first time, Jabin’s students decided to turn these hand written letters into a format for a public gathering to discuss the most critical issue of our time: climate change and the future of our civilization.

This massive subject, however, can best be addressed on a local level. And agriculture is both problem and solution when it comes to climate change.

This is where the students come in.

Let’s get local

I entered the room immediately transfixed by these handwritten letters from the grandparents blown up to poster-size and affixed to the wall. [See sidebar for more on this room and building.] The letters talked about farming, but they also described the fun they had and how much slower life was in the old days. Many of the letters talked about the prices of items, how a candy bar cost a nickel.

Attendees read the letters on the wall, discussed them, pointing out particular sentences of note.

Also prominent at the entrance to the room was a hydroponic growing system, created by one of Jabin’s students, an example of the future of farming the high school-ers would soon be addressing.

The 40 or so attendees were directed to our seats by Jacob Casper, and then Cole Isbell and Leah Sorg got up to read aloud two letters from grandparents. One grandparent related about how much time he’d spent outdoors, enjoying nature, fishing and exploring. The other letter was about growing up in coal country, going to school and having an hour for lunch to go into town and eat a massive meal for 50 cents.

To hear the grandparents’ voices through the mouths of these teenagers was unexpectedly moving.

It set the stage for three power point presentations, you guessed it: “Food. Farm. Future.”

The students doing the “Food” section showed a stunning chart on the precipitous fall of the cost of food from a percentage-of-personal income: from 25% of personal income in the 1930s to less than 10% today. Plus, over that span of time, more food is grown in less acreage.

While acknowledging these ostensible success stories, students expressed their concerns over food quality, the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in Confined Animal Feeding Operations. The impact on human and farm animal health.

They also talked about food waste: Americans waste 40% of the food they buy. This waste ends up in landfills, rotting and creating methane, a dangerous global warming pollutant.

They ended up with a list of questions for the audience to ponder for a later discussion; e.g. ‘Can we feed 9 billion people in a couple decades?’

Next up, the “Farm” students. Their presentation covered the vast differences in farming practices over last century to now, including the cost of a new tractor: from $2,000 in 1960 to $100,000 in 2015. Also detailed was the increasing use of pesticides on crops, and how CAFOs impact the local environment with run-off that can create harmful algal blooms.

Again, a list of questions to think about, questions like ‘How has the land changed as farms have grown larger?’

And now … for the Future

Two students Makayla Mobley and Rachel Brandenburg presented on the “Future” expressing their support sustainable farming, including crop rotation, no-till farming, the use of cover crops and the practice of bi-cropping. They also talked about the hydroponic set up and the need for alternative growing systems to meet the needs of the future.

A slide entitled ‘What threatens the future of farming?’ led to further slides detailing the impact of climate change on agriculture. In just twenty years, said Makayla, Indiana has seen the shift in its zone designation on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Maps: we’ve gone from a Zone 5 to a Zone 6.

Given overwhelming scientific consensus on human-created climate change, and the evidence in Indiana of its impacts, Jabin’s students sent a survey to 150 Indiana legislators

Forty-one replied.

Of those responses, two-thirds responded, “yes” to the question: ‘Is climate change something Indiana citizens should be worried about?’ One-third said “no.”

In response to the question ‘Do you think climate change has harmful effects on the health of Indiana citizens? If not now, when?’ 46% said Hoosiers were being harmed now, while 2% said in ten years, 22% said in 50 years, 8% said in 100 years, and 22% said “never.”

Next, Rachel and Makayla introduced a video.

After reading Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth, student Devin Good reached out to the author to invite him to the event. The Vermont-based McKibben (, plus author of numerous books, e.g. The End of Nature) could not attend, but sent a five-minute video, detailing his deep concerns about climate change and the impact on farming, and thus our food supply.

The “Future” presentation ended with the slide: “We know how far we’ve come since our grandparents. Who knows what story we will tell our grandchildren. It’s up to us!”

Indeed it is. In a stroke of further brilliance, the students then dispersed the audience into small discussion groups to address their questions, and give feedback about the event.

Large group discussions are often unproductive, as the intimacy is robbed by the mob context. In smaller groups, the quiet ones can be involved; all voices can be heard.

In my pod, six adults and four students had a discussion mostly about the trajectory of farm practices over time — and the concomitant pressure upon the small farmer. We had a farmer in our group who had expanded his farm from 12 acres in his father’s day to 200 acres now. He is a small farmer, and we got learn from him how difficult it is to be a farmer on that scale in today’s agricultural sector.

One woman in our group suggested that eliminating animal agriculture was the way to go; our small farmer replied he needed animals to keep his farm going. It was a frank discussion; the students took notes the entire time for discussion in their subsequent classes with Jabin.

By and large our pod was geared toward sustainable farming. There were other breakout groups, I learned later, whose constituents included larger, more industrial-scale farmers. I wish now I had sat in those groups, to learn how this presentation had impacted them.

I know that “Food. Farm. Future.” impacted me dramatically, in terms of creating a model for how we can talk to each other across perceived areas of dispute.

Youth as educators

According to a story last month in the New Republic, “Avaaz, which helped organize the People’s Climate March in New York City last September, commissioned a poll from Ipsos on how 12-year-olds view climate change. Out of 1,002 eighth-grade students surveyed, 90 percent responded that climate change is real and it’s ‘significantly’ driven by human activity.”

North Manchester High School students would have been unsuccessful had they created an event overtly about climate change and agriculture. Instead they framed the gathering around something they love: family, neighborhood, community, space.

Since they are students in a school where they are studying consensus science, they are learning about climate change, what causes it and what can address it.

It turns out agriculture is both cause and solution, as sustainable farming practices can create healthy soil; and healthy soil is a powerful means of sequestering carbon.

Think about it from their perspective. You’re, say, 17 or 18. You know climate change is happening. You know your future is threatened by it. You know that the majority of rest of the world is not arguing about it. You know your parents and grandparents may not grasp the science; they may even think it’s trumped up science, perhaps even a hoax. You know your legislators are likely skeptical about it.

What would you do?

Would you decide to leave Indiana, take your college and university and adulthood dollars somewhere else?

Would you create discord in your family, your community?

Or would you gather everyone together to discuss, respectfully, even passionately, about a shared problem, and what has to be a shared solution.

Jabin’s students accomplished the latter. Sure, they were singing to this choir — me — but I believe their model signals the next step forward. And so I call upon teachers, principals and community partners to stage their own version of Food. Farm. Future. in their own communities.

Let’s give these kids a chance to educate our communities, and in the process, give them a shot at a future worth looking forward to.

Jim Poyser

Geoengineering debate: Eighth graders in Decatur Township face off

On Tuesday, May 12, at 1 p.m., students from the Decatur Township School of Excellence (DTSE) gathered in a nearby community center to engage in a debate. Nothing particular noteworthy there. Junior high students often engage in the academically rich tradition of debate. It requires research, public speaking acumen — and quick-thinking skills to respond to your opposition.

What was unique about this debate was its subject matter: Geoengineering.

Here in Indiana, where climate change and global warming are not a daily discussion in the larger culture, these students tackled head on one of the more complex and thornier issues already facing the rest of planet.

For 13 year-old, Alexis, “I had a really good experience because it really helped me to learn more about geoengineering in a fun way.”

Fourteen year-old Cordel agreed that it was fun, adding that it was also “long, hard [and] stressful.”

Eden, also 14, noted the fun factor of the debate, but had this to say as well: “The debate over geoengineering was very interesting to me. It opened up a lot of doors from me personally. I learned something new that I could share with others about our world, and it made me face my fears: speaking in public.

“When we started the learning process I was completely against it,” she added. “But all of those facts I learned made me realize I was on a completely different side.”

The central resolution of the debate was: “Geoengineering is good for society.”

The students made the following statement in a brochure they created for the event: “Geoengineering is a topic that most of us knew nothing about until we began studying it. We are debating today about its positive and negative consequences to help bring awareness to the issues surrounding geoengineering in our society.”

One of the teachers involved in organizing the debate, Elizabeth Carpenter-Wilson, observed, “As the students learned more about geoengineering and climate change, many became concerned about the short and long term consequences. Some of the particular concerns were that many of the attempted geoengineering efforts have backfired. Also several students were alarmed that many of these activities have gone on without an informed or consenting public.

For those fuzzy on the subject of geoengineering, one group of students began the event with a presentation laying out the definition and the science. Basically, geoengineering is a large-scale engineering effort to mitigate climate change. It takes various forms, from employing ways of reflecting sunlight back into space (cloud whitening, painting building roofs white, etc.) to sequestering carbon created by the burning of fossil fuels. In one such sequestration action, iron fertilization in the ocean creates phytoplankton that is effective in sinking carbon dioxide.

As you can imagine, these large-scale mitigation actions are fraught with complexity: legal, economic, scientific— as well as justice factors such as unilateral geoengineering actions taken by a single individual, organization or country.

In a short time — about 40 minutes — DTSE students managed to present a lot of information.

One group of six students took on the affirmative position, arguing that climate change urgency is so elevated, geoengineering is of immediate need.

The negative group argued that there was still time to change our fossil fuel emissions practices and that the dangers of geoengineering were too serious to risk.

Both groups had a chance to rebut each other, and both were able to successfully continue to argue their point of view. For the record, judges proclaimed that the affirmative group “won” the debate, and that win was based on the students’ ability to cite references for their assertions.

Jeffrey, aged 14, said, “I really thought the debate went well. I really thought that both sides did well. I also will say that even if one of the sides won, both won in my mind.”

Fourteen year-old Chris added, “Even though I wasn’t in the debate, I thought the people that were deserved to be. Overall, it was amazing.”

A group discussion afterward was just as engaging as the students talked about their concerns about climate change, and how fascinating the subject of geoengineering was to them.

Plus, there were other, more traditional benefits of this debate. “I’m a quiet person,” said Alexis, “but this debate has helped me to gain more confidence.”

Said Carpenter-Wilson, “This has been a great topic of study because it is intertwined with many other important topics. My students … exceeded my expectations. 

Jim Poyser

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