Climate change is often viewed solely as an environmental crisis. But at its core, it is an issue of equity and justice. The impacts of a warming planet disproportionately affect marginalized communities around the world –– those who have contributed the least to historic greenhouse gas emissions. Low-income countries, communities of color, Indigenous populations, women, and people with disabilities bear the brunt of climate disasters, from rising seas to soaring temperatures. These frontline communities, already oppressed by systems of inequality, lack the resources to adapt or recover from the losses inflicted by climate change.
Empowering the voices of the marginalized is critical in the fight for climate justice. Education and grassroots action led by these communities are powerful tools. Project-based learning (PBL) in the classroom offers immense potential to raise awareness and spur direct student-led action. Here, we’ll explore the links between climate change and social justice, discuss the significance of project-based learning in building student agency, and highlight a few student-led initiatives that have driven change by uplifting overlooked perspectives. By empowering marginalized youth to lead the charge, we can build a more equitable and resilient future for all.
Confronting the Unequal Burdens of a Warming World: The Inextricable Link Between Climate Change & Social Justice
The climate crisis magnifies existing inequalities. The world’s poorest countries have contributed minimally to global emissions, yet face outsized impacts. Within wealthy nations like the U.S., marginalized communities also experience an unjust burden. Race and class continue to play major roles in exposure to climate hazards and access to recovery resources.
A study conducted by Greenpeace highlights the inequity on a global level. The data shows that regions in the Middle East and North Africa are warming at twice the global average, harming ecosystems, people, and livelihoods in the regions.
An EPA report conducted in 2021 demonstrates how marginalized groups in the U.S. face disproportionate climate change impacts, highlighting the fact that Black individuals are projected to experience the highest risks across all six impact areas analyzed, including increased childhood asthma and deaths from extreme heat. Hispanic and Latino individuals are also vulnerable due to high participation in outdoor labor sectors. This exposes them to extreme heat, resulting in projected declines in work hours. Transportation disparities emerge as well, with Hispanic and Latino individuals more likely to live in areas with increased flooding that washes out roads.
Empowering Young Changemakers: How Project-Based Learning Cultivates Student Agency
At the intersection of climate and justice lies agency. Frontline communities often have little political voice or leverage to drive solutions, so their needs often go overlooked in policy. By uplifting these voices and perspectives in the classroom and beyond, we can make the necessary climate change momentum needed to make the future a better one for all.
Project-based learning offers a powerful way to cultivate much-needed agency among youth. With PBL, students tackle real-world problems through hands-on work. They research issues, design solutions, and apply their learning in a way that becomes more personal to them.
For marginalized students, PBL can help build crucial skills. It enhances their sense of self-efficacy and helps them gain experience as changemakers. The projects they create can directly uplift community needs and priorities.
According to this article, many students are less engaged in their education because they lack the agency they need to “see themselves reflected in their education.” Educators can play a key role in fostering student empowerment through PBL.
“Engaging students in meaningful projects that not only encourage them to seek answers to questions they are passionate about, but later allowing them to creatively prove that they have retained the necessary knowledge,” states the article. “This creates self–confidence, agency, and a clear vision of who they are as students.”
When creating lesson plans and activities, educators can center projects around real-world student passions and issues, encouraging them to share their authentic voices and to research problems their local communities are facing. Mentorship and guidance can also bolster their capacity to lead in the future. Ultimately, PBL has the power to support students in their journey to become the drivers of progress.
Youth-Powered Progress: How Student-Led Projects Spark Climate Justice
Youth-driven PBL initiatives have already catalyzed climate action and justice. Here are some inspiring examples from around the world:
- High schoolers in Michigan launched an air quality monitoring project. By collecting data, they uncovered environmental racism in their community’s industrial zoning. This evidence bolstered local organizing against polluters.
- Students in Montgomery County, Maryland, are petitioning to keep the public schools in the county from using fossil fuels for heating and energy needs, hoping to spark the transition to renewable energy like solar and wind.
- In the urban city of Gurgaon, India, a 10th-grade student led an initiative to create a rainwater harvesting system to boost climate resilience while meeting the needs of clean drinking water for the city’s homeless population.
- Two young Kenyan university students created award-winning greenhouses that allow farmers to control temperature, humidity, and soil moisture on their mobile phones, optimizing water use and reducing waste, which is a main expense for farmers.
These incredible young people and innovative initiatives showcase boundless dynamism. Through PBL, their voices become a powerful force in the fight for climate justice, shaping a brighter, sustainable future. Together, they’re rewriting history with passion and dedication.
Use One Step to Inspire Student Action on Climate Change Through PBL
Project-based learning is a powerful tool for empowering students to tackle real-world problems like climate change. One Step’s hands-on climate science program gives students the knowledge and skills to drive solutions in their classrooms and communities.
Educators can sign up for a 30-day free trial to access engaging climate science videos, lessons, and activities. Schedule a chat to learn more!