top of page
< Back

Letter from the Editor


Dr. Graham Daborn, from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, has made a compelling appeal in this issue to teachers and students to think bioregionally and act locally. Dr. Daborn’s compact and meticulous overview of the Bay-of-Fundy- Gulf of Maine-Georges Bank ecosystems (or FMG for short) to which most of us belong, spotlights the FMG as one of the richest and fastest warming ecosystems on the planet. He then provides  compelling reasons as to why it should be protected and identifies the two existential  threats FMG faces: climate change and disinformation campaigns. Both growing more acute. To lead the way forward he calls on two allies, community -based management CBM[1] and education. The former to be achieved by local actions having bioregional implications,  and the latter by  educating youth to be scientifically informed stewards well able to discern and reject “fake” science.  This deserves a cheer!  Because it locates the solution squarely at our feet not within the immutable domain of the laws of Nature.  This ought to makes us feel optimistic since both threats, being the results of human behavior, are rectifiable by changes in human behavior, yours, and mine. Given the knowledge, purpose and skills, we can change our behavior. This is axiomatic.

While change has its origin in human behavior and may not have always resulted in benign effects not always consciously intended to do harm, it was and may be excused as an unintended consequence of the fossil fuel energy era. That is until science proved the cause-and-effect relationship between fossil fuel usage and climate change to be irrefutable. The industry could no longer be given a pass.  Then something ignominious happened. Big Oil went to Big Tobacco’s 20thcentury play book. Why? Because in the mid-20th century when the cause- and- effect relationship between smoking and multiple forms of lung and heart disease became clear and irrefutable the Tobacco Industry, fearing the loss of profits, mounted a relentless and effective denial and “fake” science campaign. In the end science prevailed,  but victory was not unconditional and now we have vaping.  When the evidence of the connection between fossil fuel production and usage began to become evident, even to MOBIL’s scientists, the first tactic for Big Oil was to bury the evidence and the second, since the first did not work, was to mount a continuous campaign of debunking the science, minimizing the effects, blaming the seemingly scientific evidence as just an historical glitch in long-term weather cycles governing the Earth’s environment since the beginning of time.

The groundwork for Big Oil to mount its disinformation campaign had been paved by Big Tobacco but greatly strengthened by the availability of new arrows to add to its quiver. One being in the latter 20th century the methods for producing and disseminating “fake” science took a great leap forward with the  ascendancy of the internet and social media as a monster megaphone and the second, market research bolstered by behavioral psychology. Together they became a formidable means to spread far-and-wide “fake’ news and its companion technique – confusion. The power to lie and confuse have ancient origins, but never have they been so empowered and effectively armed to outreach. It is notable, that in the past several decades the combined strategy has metastasized into  our politics and most aspects of social life. One is now hard pressed to know “how” and “where” to find truth. The misuse of  artificial intelligence, aka AI, threatens to make matters worse. All this is causing a lot of handwringing. It is not a good time for truth, science or  democracy and it has become a very bad time for the environment.  Again, the good news as heralded by Dr. Daborn is his choice of allies: community-based management and education. Along with the need to be thinking bioregionally while acting locally, this is good news because it places us on the playing field where we belong.


For the above reasons and more, climate change and biodiversity loss require an educational system (K-12+) that arms students with hope, sound science, empathy, and determination to become future environmental stewards of their planet. Stewards who are  well able to distinguish between “junk” and real science. Such a system, free and equal K-12, will borrow the best from Two-Eyed Seeing (an indigenous peoples’ perspective where understanding truth is found by seeing through the eyes of indigenous and western science) and community and  educational psychology where where individual and social efficacy and meaning are considered important developmental goals. Administrators will be educational leaders and play the key role of champion by supporting teachers in their role to teach youth to meet and manage the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.  In this system, teaching and learning is a seamless developmental process for K-12 students and teachers and significantly centers on community-based learning outside the classroom.  Teacher professional development is an on-going, interdisciplinary, and across-grades growth experience. This is an ideal scenario or, you might say, a “vision” or a “destination” we take as our mission. We aren’t there yet but we need to begin the journey.


Taking to heart Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s reminder “What is not started today will never be finished tomorrow”, we started our journey by asking what, besides lack of vision and determination, is stopping us. GOMI’s 25 years of experience in field-based environmental education had surfaced five obstacles to meaningful environmental education reform:

1.   Deeply rooted in our history and strongly supported by “Junk science” hucksters is a belief that empathetic field-based education is not relevant to human progress.

2.   Current public education campaigns intending to promote climate change awareness and generate action to do something about it are too often based on extinction or other fear techniques that encourage a doomsday “funk” that suffocates hope among  general public and no less so for teachers and students. Confusion and “junk” science further add to this depression and denial.  

3.   Largely, teachers lack the  knowledge of how to teach field-based studies safely and successfully. This is too often accompanied by lack of administrative encouragement for field-based education, including appropriate professional development and technological, equipment and logistical support. 

4.   Rigid school scheduling and “high cost” transportation requirements severely limit fieldwork possibilities, with transportation “costs” too often being the reason given for denial.

5.   Staff turnover, both administrative and faculty, can disable or kill budding reform efforts.


Number One is the primary cause of the other four and by no means simple to address. However, it is wrong to assume solving it  is required for success in the other four. Thinking beyond sequential reasoning can be effective – if the fence is too high the fox goes under it.  Approximately ten years ago, GOMI shifted from running summer science residential environmental education program for (US and Canadian) youth living within the Gulf of Maine watershed to teacher professional development (PD). We did this because the metrics associated with meeting young peoples’ needs in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss could be best met through introducing meaningful environmental education into the public-school systems.  We knew from our experience, much of what was happening in environmental community-management excluded youth involvement and what was being taught in the classrooms stayed in the classroom, often having no or little connection to students’ communities. This seemed contrary to learning and developmental psychology where emphasis is placed on student agency. Even more disconcerting was the lack of availability of the exact experiences students need to learn to cope successfully with climate change. We had a niche! By merging principals and methods from CBM, community psychology, and environmental education to our definition of community-based stewardship (CBS[2]) we cobbled our method.  Our focus was and continues to be bringing meaningful community-based stewardship to GoM watershed schools and their communities and in doing so overcome the challenges listed above. We started with schoolteachers and administrators.   Recently and with support from New England NOAA B-WET our effort has led to building within ten Gulf of Maine watershed school districts a teacher PD system that provides:

·      Sustainable, personalized, and replicable teacher PD support.

·      Membership only network named the Emerald Web to share on-line information, learnings and  action projects.

·      Teacher summer workshops to improve and expand course offerings and share work and ideas to build community.  

·      Three academic year full day Zoom PD sessions, on-going individual consultations and a webinar series.

·      Publishing teacher and student work and ideas in the  Journal, our written voice for GoM community field-based education. (


Additionally, each district has agreed to:

·      Set aside schoolyard property or, if unavailable, designate appropriate field-study community property, as a site(s) for a course(s) dedicated to local issues of climate change and biodiversity loss.

·      Provide each teacher, preferred two per school, professional development release time and in-service credit for all GOMI/school related activities.

·      Assist in logistical and scheduling to ensure the required field-study requirement of the course are met.


Our responses to the five obstacles listed above follow:

1.      Cultural indifference: Trees grow from the roots up as do changes in values. Be patient and celebrate small wins and lean forward.

2.   Bad messaging: This is shifting and as more youth and communities join those already doing something the call to join will be compelling.

3.   Teachers lack the  knowledge: This has been the most buoyant and inspiring result.  Teachers and their administrators have responded with energy, spontaneity, and creativity - even joy - to be part of a solution and seeing their students respond with equal positivity. 

4.   Rigid school scheduling and “high cost” transportation: This is seldom the response to the athletic program. Where field-based education becomes valued this argument evaporates. Also, by creating field- study sites within the school yard or community transportation costs are minimalized or eliminated entirely.

5.   Staff turnover: A place where you are professionally valued, grow and contribute to is a place you want to stay.


GOMI’s work is not perfect nor is it the only path to follow. It does, however, offer substantive hope that many educators and students and parents are seeking to be part of something better. If you have a path to follow that has as its  destination to educate our children to co-evolve in harmony with the environment, then board the ship that will carry you there and let the destination be your North Star.  And let us know so we can include your work or ideas in our Journal. Making a change is an E pluribus Unum journey.


I close with this poem from my favorite contemporary poet, Amanda Gorman:


When the day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it.

There is always light if only we're brave enough to see it.

If only we're brave enough to be it.



[1]  See Dr.  Daborn’s article for more on CBM.


[2] Community-based stewardship (CBS) promotes experiential learning, rooted in and with the community. CBS focuses on the uniqueness of a specific place and emphasizes civic engagement - the act(s) of doing something concrete and beneficial to understand, improve, remedy, or protect the natural and cultural environment.


 John founded the Gulf of Maine Institute in 1999. John was Editor-in-Chief, CYD (Community Youth Development) Journal from Aug. 1994 to Nov. 2002. John has broad teaching and administrative experience at the university level including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1969-1984, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, 1985-1992, and Union College, Schenectady, NY, 1964-1969. John received national recognition in 2006 when selected as Civic Ventures,’ Lead with Experience Program 2006 Purpose Prize Fellows. He is also a 2008 recipient of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment Visionary Award.

bottom of page