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Six Reasons Climate Change Education Must Be A Priority

Prioritizing change climate education is one of the fastest and most effective ways we can collectively take action to reverse global warming and secure healthy, safe communities and economic prosperity for future generations. Here are six key reasons why climate education is an environmental imperative.

  1. There are still too many young people who don’t recognize the threats of climate change…

    In a recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll on the attitudes of teens on various subjects, only 49% said they view climate change as a major threat, despite being raised during a time when warnings from scientists grow increasingly dire. Clearly, they don’t recognize the potentially disastrous consequences of climate inaction laid out by the IPCC. As stated in one of their recent reports, “any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

    Climate education is critical to increasing this understanding. Raising awareness and urgency among all young people will mobilize a broad swath of the population to take necessary and bold action to avert the climate crisis.

  2. … and others disproportionately suffer from fear and eco-anxiety.

    On the other side of the coin, we have young people struggling with eco-anxiety.

    In HBO’s series Big Little Lies, an elementary school student named Amabella passes out while her teacher is speaking to the children about climate change. A child psychiatrist tells Amabella’s mother, played by Laura Dern, that the little girl passed out because she is scared of climate change, based on what she’s learned in class.

    While this example is fictitious, this scenario has a foundation in fact. In a recent University of Bath survey that asked 10,000 16- to 25-year-olds in 10 countries about their views on climate change:

    • More than half said “humanity was doomed,”
    • Three-quarters said the future was frightening,
    • 55 percent said they would have less opportunity than their parents,
    • 52 percent said family security would be threatened,
    • 39 percent were hesitant to have children as a result.

    These attitudes were consistent across both wealthy and developing nations, big and small: from the United States and the United Kingdom to Brazil, the Philippines, India, and Nigeria.

    According to a number of educators and psychologists.A lack of adequate education on climate change actually adds to mental health trauma, Whereas, climate change education that includes science and fact-based information, along with practical ideas for individual, local, national, and global action, it can lead students away from feelings of “doom and gloom” to realistic optimism. Solution-focused climate change education strikes the balance between raising awareness and “scaring” students that there’s no hope. It empowers students and provides them with hope for their futures, and belief that they can help enact change.

  3. Educators must step up and become known as part of the solution

    There’s evidence that young people feel political leaders have failed them. That makes it much more important that they feel educators have not. They need to know their teachers and school leaders are involved, on their side, and committed to taking effective action.

    Globally, engaged, and outraged youth are leading marches, protests, and strikes for the climate. In 2018, inspired by Greta Thunberg and her “we will make them hear us” message, the Fridays For Future movement was formed. Since then, young people have organized and led annual classroom strikes, and climate rallies in 185 countries, with the number growing each year.

    Combining the youth-led movement with teacher-led climate education can create a powerful, unifying force of change. Education leaders and teachers are uniquely placed to lead the intergenerational charge to address the climate crisis. In the U.S., 80% of parents support teaching climate change in school (including 2 out of 3 Republicans). So, teachers may have more support than they realize in bringing climate lessons into their classrooms.

    By making climate change education a priority, we will avoid further youth disillusionment, and make their fight to solve the climate crisis even more effective.

    Climate change education, a teacher talks with students about solar energy

  4. Teaching climate literacy will prepare students for the green jobs of the future

    The future of the workforce is changing, and climate education can prepare and inspire students for green careers. The World Economic Forum estimates that 4 in 10 people will need to be “re-skilled” for green jobs, and nearly half of young people don’t feel they have the skills needed to perform them.

    U.S. school districts have a prime opportunity to enhance climate education. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), part of COVID-19 stimulus, has allocated billions to go directly to schools. The organization Undaunted K12 has proposed five guiding principles for schools to follow to make the most of these funds. Their fifth principle specifically outlines why climate change requires new teaching, and includes ideas for linking investments in infrastructure to classroom curriculums.

    For example, as districts update their school buildings to be more energy efficient, students can learn about carbon emission reduction in parallel. The schools can become real-life learning labs that provide technical education and career-focused learning to students while relief funds are put to use. To quote Undaunted K12, “The degree to which we prepare today’s young people to shape and thrive in a green economy will have massive implications for the global competitiveness of the United States.”

    Jobs in renewable energy are growing steadily, and according to World Economic Forum’s tracking of LinkedIn jobs data, renewable energy jobs are on track to outnumber oil/gas jobs by 2023. Other careers that haven’t traditionally been considered green now have a green component – for example, fashion careers increasingly require an understanding of sustainable supply chains. While the U.S. green economy already generates over $1 trillion annually, a report published in Palgrave Communications noted that the U.S. would need to enact “energy, environmental and educational policies relevant to the green economy to remain competitive.” Climate education in schools will help prepare our students for the exciting, economy-boosting, and earth-sustaining career opportunities ahead of them.

  5. We have the solutions, we must now inspire collective action

    The climate problem we’re solving for is not what to do, it’s how to collectively make it happen. This is a cause for optimism, because the knowledge and tools to protect the planet are at our fingertips. But knowledge and tools are only effective if people use them.

    In the book In Our Hands, A Handbook For Intergenerational Actions to Solve the Climate Crisis, author Wilford H. Welch argues that we already have the technology and initiatives that can solve climate change, and that “collective will” is the catalyst needed now to move these solutions forward. If young people’s energy can be galvanized in the classroom with climate education, and then further directed toward solutions, we’re significantly more likely to minimize the destructive forces of climate change. Wilford Welch is one of the subject matter experts facilitating our Teaching Climate Change Essentials course and his book is the main text.

  6. Research shows climate education will have relatively quick, beneficial impact

    The promising findings of a five-year research study done by a team of faculty members from San Jose State University, was shared by the bi-partisan Brookings community. The research indicated that a 19 gigaton reduction in carbon dioxide was achievable by 2050 if just 16 percent of high school students in advanced nations received adequate climate change education. When people have classroom learning on climate change, they make more environmentally friendly day-to-day personal decisions that lower carbon output. Another study indicated that climate change education among middle grade children (ages 10-14) not only engaged the children, it also helped educate, and even change the minds of, the children’s parents as well.

In Summary

Climate education provides direct connections to measurable results. It fosters individual actions and “strength in numbers” collective power. Prioritizing and integrating climate change education into all subjects, grades and classrooms is one of the most important steps we can take to solve the climate crisis.

Online Courses

Presidio Graduate School’s online courses give K-12 educators all they need to successfully incorporate climate change education into their classroom.

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Key Research Finding

Close to a 19 gigaton reduction in carbon dioxide would be achievable by 2050 if just 16 percent of high school students in advanced nations received adequate climate change education.

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This means education leaders and teachers are uniquely placed to lead the intergenerational charge to address the climate crisis.