Teaching Climate Change

  • Feb. 22, 2022

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Those words were spoken nearly six decades ago by American social justice activist Malcolm X, and they still ring true today — especially in the context of climate change.
At Beach Token, we understand the urgency to act now to reverse the effects of 170+ years of industrial impact on the climate. But when it comes to educating young people, we know that the ultimate fix is a marathon, not a sprint. When older generations of global citizens choose to look the other way when shown facts about the world’s rapidly accelerating climate crisis, educating today’s children about that crisis becomes even more imperative. As David Attenborough says: “There can be no greater legacy than giving young people the tools they need to save our planet.”
The public agrees: In 2019 on the heels of the United Nations’ Global Climate Summit, an American public survey by Columbia University Teacher’s College revealed, “a large majority of Americans support teaching primary and secondary school students about global warming and climate change.” The professors in charge of the survey learned that to a large degree, Americans believe it is high time education and educators get in on the act of teaching the nation’s youth about climate change.
Talking to children: It is often said that the honesty of a child is one of life’s purest yardsticks. Children accept and receive new ideas and information with far greater ease than many adults, in large part because they lack the preconceptions that bias us against new pieces of information that may challenge our deeply held belief systems. Young people are in fact extremely receptive to new ideas, even ones that seem daunting to an adult. I worked in climate change education for three years and I found that it’s relatively easy to explain the greenhouse effect to a 6 year old using only an inflatable earth and a blanket — and once you do, their first response is generally to want to do something about it.
And yet there’s also a balancing act here: children want to know the truth, but with eco-anxiety on the rise among young people, they need to be taught the truth in non-scary, non-threatening ways. It’s not an easy tightrope to walk: it’s important not to hide the magnitude of the challenge, and yet equally vital to articulate and emphasize tangible meaningful actions that they can take, so that young people feel empowered rather than helpless.
With so much information available online, and much of it sensationalised to grab our attention, it’s easy for young people to become overwhelmed and misinformed. Whatever we can teach children in school, it’s likely to be dwarfed by the amount of information they will consume passively on social media. As teachers it’s important we teach young people not just new information, but the cognitive capacity to take a birdseye view of the maelstrom of competing interests in an increasingly broken information ecology. They need critical thinking skills and tools to assess the quality of new information, check facts, and keep an open mind to avoid being captured by special interest groups with narrow agendas.
Effective teaching methods: Given all these pitfalls, if you’re a teacher and you’re unsure how to go about teaching climate change then don’t worry: you’re in good company. Teach The Future have conducted research which suggests that around 70% of teachers (in the UK) feel they haven’t been properly trained to teach climate change. However, the good news is that there are many many educational resources out there to make use of, and many of them are free:
1) UK based climate change education charity Green Schools Project has free resources for any school anywhere.
2) For schools which are really serious about climate change and wish to take a deeper dive, Educcate Global offer Bronze, Silver and Gold Carbon Literacy Teacher Training to schools including some free resources.
3) Global ESD offer free classroom materials which give an evolutionary and game theoretical perspective on climate change and human behavior — often a vital missing piece of the conversation around climate change.
4) David Attenborough’s Our Planet documentary series also has a series of resources for young people and schools.
5) Force of Nature are an excellent NGO which has created a series of workshops to help young people convert their climate anxiety into agency.
6) A quick Google search reveals dozens of children’s books that address the topic of climate change in easy-to-understand ways.
7) Watch and discuss YouTube videos on Climate. Entering “Climate Change” into the search bar reveals dozens of videos that unpack every imaginable topic associated with climate, including cause-and-effect discussions, impacts on freshwater abundance, weather related topics, and ideas to implement locally.
8) NASA’s CLIMATE KIDS provides a whole host of science, weather, and biology related pages and games designed to educate and inform people of all ages.
9) Classroom conversations empower children. Help translate words into actions, and show them tangible ways they can act. It’s essential to give young people a sense of agency — show that they are not merely bystanders, but that their actions have a direct impact on climate and their words and attitudes about climate can have a positive influence on people even as far as three degrees of separation away.[1]
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” At Beach Token we believe that education is essential in the long-term fight against climate change. The knowledge gained by our world’s youth will help them change their behaviours and others’ so that they can both understand and respond to the consequences of climate change in our rapidly warming world.
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