(originally written August 9th, 2021)
Dear John Abbott College,
It is with regret that I must resign as an educator at John Abbott College. Below is my formal letter of resignation from my tenured teaching position. I have enjoyed nearly 15 years of teaching John Abbott students about geology, earth systems science, science and climate literacy, and the present human-caused climate and ecological emergencies (CEC) at John Abbott, and my interactions with them have by far been the most rewarding part of my job at the college. I will miss them, and miss seeing that spark of excitement when they’ve learned something new. However, it is clear to me now that teaching young people about the CEC without a cohesive, science-informed institutional and cultural framework of climate-literate support for them, does them more harm than good.
I arrived at this conclusion after many months of reflection, informed by over a decade of teaching thousands of students about what the best available science predicts for their futures. We (privileged people in wealthy countries) have a very short window of opportunity to take decisive action to avert the worst consequences of climate breakdown, one that is not large enough for our student’s generation to take advantage of. It is also fundamentally unfair and unjust for us, part of the generations that have benefitted from unmitigated extraction and emissions, to drop the responsibility to ‘fix or adapt’ to the CEC in their young laps. They deserve a livable future, and they deserve our apology, immediate action, and support to navigate a very uncertain future. Honesty, transparency, and open dialogue about the climate and ecological crises must form the core of our educational system. We, as the ‘adults in the room’, need to make climate science-informed decisions on policies, pedagogy, and best practices in order to do our best for them. We need to be re-educated.
In order to address this need, I proposed a job-restructuring as a Climate Literacy Specialist that admittedly (and obviously) is not one that fits readily into the current hiring/employment structure (or the Collective Agreement) at John Abbott- that is rather the point. It was conceived in the context of the climate and ecological emergencies and the repeated calls - from thousands of scientists - for immediate transformative systemic change. This kind of change must happen in all aspects of society, including educational institutions. Clearly this can only come to pass under leadership prepared to be bold and brave in response - to think and act outside of the norms that have guided ourselves to tenured, comfortable jobs, and a state of the world in which this past year of pandemic, fire, floods, and heatwaves will be the best scenario we can hope for from now on.
This resignation is my act of conscientious objection to educational business-as-usual with a ‘green’ twist, couched in the assumption of a forever-growing economy on a physically finite planet. The science clearly tells us that the future that our students are headed for will be radically different from the one that informs our decisions today to move incrementally toward a ‘techno-green’ future- regardless of however much we manage to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by in the next five years. As education stands now, we are not preparing our students to be successful in their futures, and by not admitting to that, we are failing them. We simply cannot continue to prepare our students for a world that will not exist in 20 years, possibly sooner, and at the same time, not providing them the emotional support that they need.
The facts above come from thousands of peer-reviewed scientific and allied studies, re-reviewed through the recent IPCC reports of 2018 and 2021. As a scientist and educator, I must speak the scientific truth no matter the personal social or economic consequences. I was hoping to be able to do that for my colleagues and our students at John Abbott this Fall term, but it does not appear to be possible. Therefore, as of Friday, August 27th 2021, I officially resign my teaching position.
Heather Short, Ph.D.