Symposium 19. Learning from Disasters: Environmental Disasters as Teachable Moments

Room: Continental B

Organizer: David Blockstein, Senior Scientist, NCSE

Moderator: Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education, National Wildlife Federation


  1. Cutler J. Cleveland, Professor, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Boston University -- Gulf Oil
  2. David Blockstein, NCSE -- Project Passenger Pigeon
  3. Hunter Cutting, Director of Strategic
    Communications, Climate Nexus, West
    Coast Office -- Superstorm Sandy: Lessons
    for Climate Change Education

Disasters provide great opportunities to focus attention on issues that members of the public may otherwise not notice. Many environmental problems, such as endangered species and climate change, are “chronic crises”, which only make the headlines when disaster strikes. Episodic disasters, such as oil spills, grab public attention, and can be used to raise awareness of underlying issues such as America’s addiction to fossil fuels. Yet, in today’s 24/7 news cycles, even disasters can quickly be wiped off the headlines when the next disaster strikes or when the cameras move on.

This symposium explores how environmental disasters have been and can be used as “teachable moments”.  We will use case studies of Superstorm Sandy, the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon to see how formal and informal educators are taking using environmental disasters to raise awareness of environmental problems and to develop solutions. In each case web resources have helped educators to share curricular resources and learn how to better reach students and the public. See;;;; General discussion will identify lessons learned and consider how environmental educators can take advantage of Rahm Emanuel’s maxim, “A crisis is too good to waste”.