How To Build A Climate Workforce In Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Tiffany Huynh

Tiffany Huynh is the director of external affairs at Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit on a mission to redesign the systems at the root of climate change.


When it comes to climate change, we all approach it with different levels of understanding and lived experiences.

Fortunately, the general population has begun to recognize that it is indeed a global crisis, no matter where you live. As an industry, we have a responsibility to help create pathways for youth to explore these issues and provide opportunities for professional development. Because if you can see it, you can be it.

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We are currently seeing more evidence of climate change around the world with the wildfires in Australia, the Amazon and the Pacific Northwest, the icy wave that shocked Texas or the rising heat and sea levels here at home in Hawaii.

According to the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”

Despite a short-term fall in carbon emissions as a result of the pandemic, 2020 tied 2016 as the warmest year on record. A study finds that if the planet continues to warm on its current trajectory, the average 6-year-old will live through roughly three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents.

The recent frequency of extreme weather events is causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damages to businesses and infrastructure across the U.S. On Oahu, think about the residents on the North Shore who are regularly dealing with the erosion of roads and retaining walls from rising sea levels.

Not only is this an environmental crisis, it is an economic one. Hawaii already pays three times more for energy than any other state in the nation, and something as simple as the cost of running air conditioning in your home or small business (if you’re fortunate enough to have it) will almost certainly see dramatic increases in the very near future. (Pictured at top: The company CarbonCure infused CO2 into concrete for new infrastructure builds in Hawaii. Photo courtesy Elemental Excelerator.)

Ampaire’s hybrid-electric plane flew a commercial route in 2020 for Southern Mokulele Airlines on Maui.
Ampaire’s hybrid-electric plane fueling a commercial route in 2020 for Southern Mokulele Airlines on Maui. A new workforce can be grown with a proactive response to climate change. Elemental Excelerator

Warming temperatures also have a domino effect on the concentration levels of workers in all industries, from teachers and students in the classroom to how many hours people can safely work outside for jobs like construction, landscaping, or farming in a given day. Whether or not you realize it, you are experiencing climate change.

Although we recognize that humans have caused this crisis, our team at Elemental Excelerator is optimistic in the collective impact we can all make in the fight against it.

In addition to supporting technologies that have the potential to rapidly decarbonize our economy, we believe in the power that education has to catalyze community action and create impactful workforce development opportunities.

Classroom conversations around climate, technology, policy, and the future of our state provide a great opportunity to introduce students to the problem and the paths toward potential solutions. Their education plays directly into their roles as the next generation of climate leaders who will ultimately deploy solutions and combat more environmental crises than any of the generations before them.

Therefore, it is crucial that we provide opportunities for students to stand on the shoulders of giants as they explore professional pathways.

My own career started because of an invaluable summer internship at a hospital with the only drivers’ training and rehabilitation program in the state that helped people who had suffered traumatic injuries. My task was to develop a business plan with recommendations for the flailing program. The implementation of that report ended up saving the program from closing its doors.

Although my experience was not directly related to climate, I saw first-hand how youth can make a profound and lasting difference in organizations and the community. Cultivating and investing in these types of experiences are integral to how students view their impact and career opportunities.

I truly believe that, in the near future, every job will be a climate job. Whether you are a city planner, accountant, or marketer, everyone plays a role in our fight against climate change.

TerViva Bioenergy planted 70 acres of pongamia on distressed Kamehameha Schools agricultural land in 2018. TerViva

This past summer, Elemental partnered with Teach for America to pilot a new program called “Root for Innovation.” This builds on TFA’s existing teacher externship program which aims to catalyze industry growth, job creation and global action.

The pilot paired each of the teachers with two rising high school juniors and seniors from public high schools across Oahu and Hawaii Island. Not only did they work together to gain hands-on innovation and entrepreneurship learning experiences, they were also tasked with co-creating curricula to bring learning about systems change and real-world climate problems back into their classrooms. This helps to provide students with the context and experience necessary to navigate similar issues they might come up against as they enter the workforce.

Investing In Classrooms

For example, Berit DeGrandpre, a second-year Teach for America fellow and Root for Innovation participant, teaches “Participation in Democracy” at Aiea High School. This summer, she designed a project called “Designing the Climate Future Through Democracy” with two students, David Jimenez (Konawaena High School) and Chrissea Hagemann (Aiea High School).

In the project, students are divided into four districts according to seating arrangements and are asked to elect a district representative to act as their legislator. The students not chosen as legislators are grouped as scientists, business advocates, or townspeople. Within each group, students take on unique roles such as farmer, journalist, glaciologist, etc.

Students are asked to research their individual roles and develop three goals regarding climate future and design. Then, in their constituent groups, they discuss and negotiate until they are able to agree on five group goals. In the project’s final “town hall” meeting, students must convince their four legislators to adopt their group’s goals and interests.

Following the town hall discussion, students complete a reflection assignment to assess the strengths and weaknesses of designing policy priorities through democracy. They are also asked to take it one step further by researching potential policy implementation and design for one of the final climate goals selected by the class legislators.

By collaborating as peers, DeGrandpre, Jimenez and Hagemann embodied the systems change they worked to cultivate. This resulted in an assignment that will help incoming students understand how to create progress in a democratic structure by identifying and selecting the most pressing climate needs currently impacting the community. This project will become a class-wide assignment in each of DeGrandpre’s future Participation in Democracy classes.

We believe in the power that education has to catalyze community action.

This example is just one of many that have emerged as a result of Elemental and other organizations’ focus on local climate education. By investing in our classrooms, we are investing in a healthier climate future. This is an important pillar of Elemental’s five-year strategy to inspire 10,000 climate jobs across Hawaii and beyond.

Our young people are urging us to include climate change and social justice into their curriculum. We know there are many organizations and businesses such as Blue Planet Foundation, KUPU, and Servco Pacific that are investing in our schools to create the next generation of leaders. As we see more renewable energy solutions come online, the time is now to intentionally create opportunities in these new industries.

We’re all in the same canoe here, and together we hope we can inspire students and teachers to help build the workforce we need to redesign the systems at the root of our climate crisis.


Read this next:

What 'Build Back Better' Could Do For Hawaii


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About the Author

Tiffany Huynh

Tiffany Huynh is the director of external affairs at Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit on a mission to redesign the systems at the root of climate change.


Latest Comments (0)

I am sorry, but Hawaii is not the right place to fight global warming. We are already the lowest in the nation in per capita electricity usage and the average number of miles driven, and close to the very top in the adoption of electric vehicles. Hawaii's migration to renewable energy can, and should, pay for itself as the cost of oil goes up and the cost of new energy technologies goes down. Whatever funds we can spare, we should spend on anticipation and mitigation of the effects of global warming (first and foremost, the ocean level rise), not on boondoggles such as burning wooden pellets at the Barbers Point electric plant, premature switch to battery storage, or various feel-good but ultimately fruitless awareness initiatives and publicity stunts.

Chiquita · 1 month ago

In the 70's when we were burning more oil. cars got less then one third gas mileage than now we were warned of a mini ice age was immenent.  What happened? No one seems to explain, only avoid.

Whatarewedoing · 1 month ago

What is a climate career? Does it involve spending a lot of freshly printed digital money in order to create more administrative positions selling technology that doesn't work? It feels like part of the climate problem is that we have too much of that already and they all expect lifestyles that our resource base can no longer support. 

FreeThinker · 1 month ago

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