Teaching Kids about Climate Change with Green Ninja

by Steve Schaefer

Eugene Cordero portrait

Eugene Cordero, Ph.D. is a climate scientist who teaches in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University. Dr. Cordero believes that youth education is a key factor in the efforts to mitigate global warming and adapt to a future of climate change.

Cordero spoke on November 14th to an attentive audience at the Acterra Fall Lecture Series at the Foster Art and Wilderness Foundation in Palo Alto.

Besides his teaching, Cordero has worked for the last few years to create the Green Ninja program for middle school science students. It was recently approved by the State of California and will be on the list that California’s approximately 1,000 school districts can choose from for their science education curriculum.

The Green Ninja videos have been enjoyed on YouTube for years. They combine scientific information about climate change with humor and silliness. This is how you get attention from young people today.

Dr. Cordero began his career researching the ozone hole. After his work concluded, he moved into the realm of climate science. His involvement with the ozone crisis impressed him with how scientists recommended a solution—replacing the chemicals that caused the ozone depletion—and turned back the dire consequences of losing the protection of the ozone layer.

“Without this change, people would be getting sunburns in five minutes by 2050,” he said. Today, the ozone layer is recovering.

In his presentation, Cordero explained basic climate change science before delving into the Green Ninja content. He presented a bar chart showing the now familiar rapid temperature rise over the last 100 years, especially in the last 30. He showed images of large glaciers from 100 years ago that are lakes today. He talked about the massive storms we are getting now and the billions of dollars in damage they leave in their wake.

Limiting the Earth’s average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is the target, Cordero said, although the recent, frightening IPCC report from the U.N. proposes 1.5 degrees. In any case, there are many actions we need to take right now.

Cordero listed essential areas we associate with making change—inspiration, knowledge, and leadership—but said we’re missing a key piece—education. He has devoted his work to interacting directly with his students and creating a way to scale up to teaching thousands of students through his Green Ninja program.

Cordero collaborated with Laura Stec on a book, Cool Cuisine, that shows how you can reduce your carbon footprint by eating foods that have less environmental impact. For example, the energy to produce a serving of beef is around five times that of chicken. Eating vegetables instead is a small fraction of that. This research helped Cordero focus on stories for a younger audience, which is where Green Ninja came from.

The Green Ninja project started out with videos, games and events. Then, Cordero ran two case studies with middle school kids and university students. After the research was over, he surveyed the participants and found that effective changes in behavior came down to three important attitudes:

  • Climate change is personal
  • Climate change is fixable
  • It’s important to take action

The three things that the participants were most likely to do now to reduce their carbon footprint were:

  • Drive a hybrid vehicle
  • Eat a vegetarian diet
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances

Based on this research, Cordero began his educational programs. Sticking with threes, Cordero found three factors that led students, after they were out of school, to make steps to lower their carbon footprint. They:

  • Felt a personal connection to the issue
  • Felt a sense of empowerment
  • Had an empathy for the environment

The Green Ninja program is designed to support those factors, and is based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which have a direct connection to climate change, especially in California. And that’s where the program is going to be available first.

The original Green Ninja videos were specially designed to make science interesting and engaging. For example, see the classic Styrofoam Man, a six-minute live action saga that’s corny, slapstick comedy, but with a message. The Green Ninja show videos in the program are cartoons, like this one.

Green Ninja

“Climate change is a depressing subject,” said Cordero. “Humor helps to connect to young people.”

The program targets 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and focuses on each student’s own story, environmental solutions, as well as data and technology. There’s a lot of hands-on activity, where kids bring home what they learn at school and show their families how to make positive changes. This is very empowering.

The Green Ninja materials give Cordero a chance to scale up his work at San Jose State. He hopes that a lot of schools will take up his program soon. You can reach him at eugene@greenninja.org

 

Acterra’s mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet.

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Scoop Carpool App Does the Job

by Steve Schaefer

scoop-logo

Driving an electric car saves burning gas. But sharing a car takes one or more vehicles off the road entirely! So, with Scoop, convenience meets climate-consciousness with one easy-to-use app.

Scoop is a casual carpooling app that you can download onto your phone in a minute. Much as you might call Uber or Lyft to get a ride somewhere, with Scoop you can join a carpool, saving (or earning) money and doing something good for the environment at the same time.

I needed a ride home from work today, because I had driven a test car in and had returned it. So, I decided to try the Scoop app. My friend at work told me how well it had worked for her, but I normally drive test vehicles or my own Chevrolet Bolt EV. But today, the golden opportunity presented itself.

I had already downloaded the app, so Scooop knew where I worked and my home address. Since my signup, I received daily invites to set up a morning or afternoon ride. After a few days, they stepped it up to say a particular person was looking for a ride or a rider. Interesting way to get you to engage.

This morning, knowing I was ready, I touched the app icon on my phone, and it opened up. First, I had to indicate whether I needed a ride or wanted to provide one. Then, I needed to specify the time. Scoop suggests you make it as big a window as possible, so you have the best chance of attracting a driver who can get to you in time. I set up for 4:40 – 5:10 p.m.–a half hour.

Then, it asked me for credit card information, so they could easily bill (or credit) my account. That was no problem.

You need to sign up for morning commutes by 9 p.m. the evening before, and afternoon rides by 3 p.m. I signed up at 9:54 this morning for this afternoon and waited to hear.

At precisely 2 p.m. I received a notification that I was scheduled for an afternoon trip and had to let them know by 3 if I wanted to cancel. That was a good sign. But a little after 3 p.m., I got a text saying I hadn’t been assigned a carpool, but they would add me to the Shortlist, and they had notified drivers of my availability and would notify me by 4:40. Hmmm. This might leave me without a way home–or mean I’d have to call Lyft and pay big bucks.

But–shortly after, I got the word–I had a ride! Lawrence, who works at a company a few miles away, would come pick me up in his blue BMW at 5:10 p.m.. Great!

I got down to the front of my building just after 5 and waited around. I checked the app, clicking on “Details,” and it showed a little car representing Lawrence in front of his office building.

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The time counted down from 10 minutes to 5 minutes to 1 minute, and then it said “Trip Underway.” However, it really wasn’t because Lawrence’s car hadn’t moved. I waited a little longer, and began to wonder when I’d get home.

Then, my phone rang. Lawrence had been tied up in a meeting and was on his way. And he did appear about 20 minutes later. I was able to track his car as it made its way along, like the Lyft app. Here it’s halfway there.

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The Scoop app has buttons for phone or texting, so I could have reached out to Lawrence if I needed to, but as a first-timer, I was just watching to see how it worked.

I was Lawrence’s only rider, and slipped into the front passenger seat, stashing my briefcase in the back seat, along with his.

Turns out my driver was a friendly 32-year-old man working in the real estate division of his company. We had a very pleasant discussion about our jobs, outside interests, the rising price of housing in the Bay Area, and it seemed that before I knew it, we were pulling up in front of my house. It was a very pleasant experience.

Normally, the ride would cost $7.00–which doesn’t seem like much. I believe that I had one free credit for signing up, so it may have been a free ride.

A little later, I received a brief survey, which I filled out on my phone. I recommended Lawrence and then made him a favorite, so perhaps we’ll meet again. I normally drive, but I might try taking people with me. The money would be nice, but the best part is that I’d be taking people out of their own (likely gasoline) vehicles, and would have a chance to make some new friends in the process.

Scoop was founded by Jon and Rob Sadow in 2015. Their goal was to bring commuters together in carpools they love, since “80% of Americans drive alone to work, wasting valuable minutes every morning.” Their long, scrolling page of smiling (youthful) employees on their website includes 10 dogs, such as this one.

Boston

Now, you can carpool without any hassle, anytime you want. If you ride, you pay a little, and if you drive, you earn a little. It’s easy.