SanDiego350 Educates Southwest High School Students on Urgency of Climate Action

Originally published by the San Diego Free Press on April 30th 2018
By Susan Huntington Bishop

Left to Right: Bev Harju, Michelle Roberts, Ron Schneider, Susan Bishop
Photo courtesy of a student of Michelle Roberts

SanDiego350’s Presentation Team has been busy spreading the word about climate change throughout communities in the San Diego area. Team volunteers Beverly Harju, Ron Schneider, and Nancy Cottingham spent April 11th with students in Michelle Roberts’ Biology classes at Southwest High School. Michelle is a SanDiego350 member and is dedicated to teaching the next generation about the serious issues facing our planet and the concrete steps they can take toward building solutions.

For their presentations, the Team uses a PowerPoint they created and which they revise for varied audiences. It’s called The Climate Change Crisis and How We Can Solve It Together and is geared toward educating members of the general public about the urgency of climate action. It focusses on causes, local and global impacts, impediments to action, and personal and collective solutions. The team presents to schools, libraries and adult public groups. But their program can be adapted to any age group and any level of knowledge.

Making Climate Science Accessible

The Climate Change Crisis and How We Can Solve It Together is broken down into two parts and is generally presented by a team of two. The presentation addresses the following questions:

Part I

  • What is climate change and why is it a crisis?
  • What are the impacts of climate change?

Part II:

  • What are the solutions to the crisis?
  • How is each of us part of the solution?

During the morning classes at Southwest High School, Ron Schneider presented Part I. Ron is the retired CEO of a consulting company that focused on research and development planning and analysis, primarily for the U.S. Navy Laboratory on Pt. Loma. He wrote the program plans for the Navy’s Marine Mammal program and a biofuels development program and participated for years in development, training, experimental design and data analyses on those programs.

Ron Schneider talks climate science with Biology students at Southwest High School
Photo courtesy of Susan Bishop, SanDiego350

Ron did a great job of making basic climate science accessible to the teenage Biology students. He started with a historical perspective designed to help them understand the difference between the natural cycles of planetary warming and cooling that have existed for hundreds of thousands of years, and the recent dramatic acceleration of climate change caused by human activity.

Students learned about the contributions of scientists like Svante Arrhenius and Milutin Milankovitch. Arrhenius used basic principles of physical chemistry in the late 19th century to calculate the relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the increase in Earth’s surface temperature, laying the foundation for later scientists to conclude that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were driving global warming. Milankovitch, in the early 20th century, identified how cyclical movements of the earth, such as orbital eccentricity, impact natural climate fluctuation.

Ron went on to describe the positive feedback loop that accelerates warming when CO2 becomes trapped in the atmosphere; how shrinking sea ice reduces the reflection of sunlight back out into space and increases absorption by the Earth and the broadening surface of the rising oceans. A “hockey stick” graph demonstrated the dramatic increase in warming during the last 150 years, and particularly in the years since World War II.

Ron also discussed the widespread impacts of climate change, such as drought, flooding, wildfires, violent storms, species loss, and famine leading to mass migrations and civil unrest. He wrapped up Part I with a discussion of the Paris Agreement and the need for improvement in the current international goals and standards to avoid an unacceptable increase in human-caused global warming by 2100.

Empowering Positive Action

Bev Harju presented Part II to the morning classes. Bev is a clinical psychologist who spent many years as a counselor for UCSD and a professor of psychology at East Carolina University. Her presentation addressed the following issues:

  • Climate protection laws
  • Developing green energy
  • Personal & civic action

Specifically adapting her comments to teenagers, Bev introduced the kids to ways they could personally take action to combat climate change.

She began by discussing emissions in the City of San Diego and talked about the positive impacts of driving less and using public transportation whenever possible. She then pointed out various ways that students could harness their collective power through school groups and social media, as well as ways for them to volunteer individually in their communities. She also directed them to an online carbon footprint calculator, and pointed out the many ways they could act to reduce their footprints, including following a green diet and avoiding food waste.

Bev Harju engages students in discovering how positive action can produce climate solutions
Photo courtesy of Susan Bishop, SanDiego350

In the afternoon session, Nancy Cottingham handled the Part I portion of the presentation. Nancy is a psychotherapist who retired after a long career leading large mental health organizations. Ron Schneider presented Part II as part of his presentation training during the afternoon.

Spreading the Word

The team’s presentation ordinarily runs approximately one hour, including 10 minutes for a question and answer period, making it the ideal length for either a school class period or a group meeting session. It is free of charge. If you belong to, or know of, a group that might be interested in this presentation, team co-leaders Bev Harju and Larry Emerson would love to hear from you. You can contact them at Or check out Free Community Climate Change Presentations for more information.

Also, the SanDiego350 presentation team is looking for new members to help with presenting and/or related tasks. No special knowledge is required as training is provided. If you enjoy interacting with groups and have some time to commit to the team, Bev and Larry would love to hear from you.

About the Author

Susan Huntington Bishop, JD, is an attorney and a writer who currently specializes in producing a wide variety of content for the legal industry. She has long been a dedicated advocate for children’s rights. As a volunteer for SanDiego350, she is committed to protecting our planet for the children of today and the children of tomorrow.

About angelaD

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Angela has lived in San Diego since 1999 and works in Geographical Information Systems in the water industry. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening with native plants and Irish ceili dancing. She has been involved with SanDiego350 since it formed in late 2011.

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