Most American teens say they learn little to nothing about climate change in school, though its effects will have a big impact on their future. One group has been trying to fill this gap in the curriculum.

As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, they aim to make climate science cool.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: The auditorium at James Blake High School in Silver Spring, Maryland is packed. On stage, a giant screen and a young man with jeans and a shaved head.

CY MARAMANGALAM: All right, how's everyone doing today? Good.


MARAMANGALAM: All right, yay.

LUDDEN: Cy Maramangalam is with the Alliance for Climate Education, or ACE. The non-profit has put on this multimedia presentation to more than a million students across the country in the past few years. Think of it as Al Gore for Gen Y.

MARAMANGALAM: A while back, scientists discovered that the Earth has a sort of giant thermostat that controls the temperature of the planet. And these days, that thermostat is being jacked up, way up.

LUDDEN: Why? Because he tells students of you and all the space you take up. Not just your houses and schools, but space in Iowa to grow your food, in Brazil and China to make all your stuff.

MARAMANGALAM: Can you believe that the average American teenager uses about 21 football fields of the Earth's resources to live?

LUDDEN: Now and then, teachers or parents will push back on these presentations, saying climate change is too controversial, too political. Some schools don't invite the group at all. But Blake biology teacher Colleen Roots sought out ACE. She says too many students don't learn about climate change in any of their classes.

COLLEEN ROOTS: It's a part of science and a part of education that is lacking in the curriculum right now. No one has changed the curriculum in far too many years.


MARAMANGALAM: Are you guys getting it? OK, so...

LUDDEN: In the auditorium, the cartoon characters and graphs on the big screen are grounded in solid science. And the students are rapt, even when presenter Maramangalam lays out complicated scientific concepts and when a video warns that this century could see millions of species go extinct, millions of people become climate refugees.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Economists predict that climate change will cost our world trillions of dollars each year in damages and threaten food and water supplies in communities around the world.

LUDDEN: It's heavy stuff. But Matt Lappe, ACE's education director, says teens need to know.

MATT LAPPE: They're going to be the generation to feel the impacts hardest and first. And so in some sense, we target high schoolers and young people in general, because they really have a right to know climate science.

LUDDEN: After the presentation, Danielle Snowden and Nicole Lertora are a little shellshocked.

DANIELLE SNOWDEN: It was kind of scary. I didn't realize that it was that big of an issue. I just thought, you know, we should do better, we should - but it's like, we have to do better.

NICOLE LERTORA: Well, I want to go home and unplug my charger right now.


LUDDEN: In fact, the ACE presentation turns upbeat at the end, suggesting things kids can do to cut down on all that space they take up. Afterward, Maramangalam meets with those interested.

MARAMANGALAM: So, why don't we go around and introduce yourselves...

LUDDEN: A dozen students brainstorm on ways to reduce their school's carbon footprint, like in the cafeteria.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: We really need to get some reusable trays. Like, it's pretty ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: Or if you get plastic ones that you can wash.

LUDDEN: ACE will foster those who want to become environmental leaders. But mostly, education director Matt Lappe says these presentations get kids talking about climate change.

LAPPE: The long-term goal of this project - and we hope that it's not too long-term, but relatively short term - is that we really start to shift the conversation and shift the culture about climate change.

LUDDEN: And that, he says, could have an impact well beyond the classroom.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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