By the time wildfires tore through his home county of Sonoma, California, Park Guthrie was already convinced that the clock on the climate catastrophe was running out. In 2015, Guthrie, a sixth-grade teacher and father of three, had approached the superintendent of the school district where he worked, hopeful she would sign a resolution endorsing action on climate change. He says he got nowhere.
But after attending an advocacy event in Washington two years later, and hearing that the U.S. government has known of the dangers from burning fossil fuels for a half century, Guthrie decided to think bigger. In July 2017, he started a campaign called Schools for Climate Action. He set up meetings with leaders of other nearby school districts, pressing them to declare climate change an urgent issue that is harming kids.
Because his job involves working with children, Guthrie is mandated under California law to report any suspicion of child abuse and neglect to authorities. “If I suspected neglect of an individual student and did nothing, my silence would literally be criminal,” he said. “This is wholesale child neglect … And statistically, zero percent of education leaders have reported on this neglect.”
He’s trying to change that. So far, 46 school boards have signed resolutions like those advocated by Guthrie’s group, recognizing that climate change is harming America’s schools and students and urging Congress to take action. Seven PTAs and two national and state education groups have also signed on. Guthrie notes that school boards and other education groups regularly make the case to legislators that they should act in the best interest of children, so the silence of education groups on this particular issue “is one of the pillars that protects national climate inaction.” He added, “There is absolutely nothing from the education sector that would give them [lawmakers] the idea that they are making reckless decisions or that their decisions negatively impact young people.”
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