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Global WarmingWhere It Stands, and Why It Matters

Where It Stands, and Why It Matters

Climate Education within the U.S.: Where It Stands, and Why It Matters

Young people across the globe are concerned about climate change. A Lancet study surveying 10,000 young people ages 16 to 25 in 10 countries found that greater than half felt sadness, anxiety, anger, and guilt about climate change. They’re seeing the impacts of a warming planet within the news and in their very own communities, but many feel helpless and powerless. The young want solutions—they need to know what they will do about climate change.

In 2021, at COP26 in Glasgow, the ministers of education and environment committed to including climate change education in all educational institutions, recognizing “the big remaining gaps in providing everyone with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to effectively take part in the transition towards climate positive societies.” Nevertheless, the identical 12 months, a UNESCO study of just about 50 countries revealed that lower than half made any mention of climate change of their educational policies. Furthermore, only 21 percent of the brand new or updated plans submitted by 95 countries as their Paris Agreement goals mentioned climate change education; none of them presented it as a climate strategy.

“The time is now to incorporate climate education as a key climate risk mitigation strategy — together with energy transformation, land uses and water — and to make climate education a compulsory a part of the national curriculum,” in response to Radhika Iyengar, director of the education sector at Columbia Climate School’s Center for Sustainable Development.

In truth, a 2020 study found that if 16 percent of secondary school (such as middle and highschool) students all over the world in middle and high income countries studied climate change, it might end in cutting almost 19 gigatons of CO2 by 2050. It is because educated youth would develop personal connections to climate change solutions, and alter their behaviors accordingly throughout their lives. Climate education was shown to potentially be a more practical approach to reduce emissions than many other single solutions.

The necessity for climate education within the U.S.

Young people recognize that climate change goes to shape their futures—where they live, the work they’ll do, and their quality of life. They need climate education with a purpose to develop green skills, adapt to the tough reality of a warming world, and understand the best way to combat climate change. But they should learn the fundamentals of climate change before they will do anything about it.

Within the U.S., greater than 86 percent of teachers and 84 percent of fogeys support climate change education in schools. Progress is being made in some states, but on the entire students will not be learning enough about climate science quickly enough to present them the knowledge and tools they’ll must address the impacts of climate change.

“The education system is failing the scholars relating to climate change or climate education within the formal curriculum,” said Iyengar. “We actually need to select up speed because otherwise we can have a complete generation of scholars who will graduate with this climate anxiety and is not going to know what to do because they’ve not been prepared by our education systems.”

Science standards within the U.S.

At the beginning of this 12 months, two measures that might have supported climate change education died in Congress. There remains to be no national consensus concerning the importance of climate education, and the U.S. doesn’t have national science standards. Each state determines what its schools teach and this may vary greatly. A public school’s curriculum must follow state education guidelines which dictate what a student should know at the tip of a grade or subject. How and what they’re taught to get there’s as much as the person school districts and teachers.

An early effort to determine science standards in 1996 was largely ignored by states. But in 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were developed by the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nonprofit Achieve and over 24 states. They beneficial that man-made climate change be taught starting in fifth grade and incorporated into all science classes. Nevertheless, the standards are voluntary. Forty-four states use the NGSS or have crafted standards based on them; the remainder developed their very own science standards.

Seven years after the NGSS were introduced, the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund graded the states’ climate education. Twenty-seven states, including 20 states and the District of Columbia that adopted the NGSS, scored B+ or higher. Of the remainder, 20 got a C+ or lower, with 10 of them scoring a D. Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia received Fs.

While one study from the National Center for Science Education found that 75 percent of public school science teachers do cover climate change, one other 2016 survey of 1,500 middle and highschool teachers found that they only devoted one or two hours to climate change during all the academic 12 months.

Progress in U.S. climate education

There are, nonetheless, two examples of leadership in climate education: Recent Jersey and Connecticut.

In 2020, Recent Jersey became the primary state to mandate the teaching of climate change in all subjects starting in kindergarten. The state budget includes $5 million for grants that may fund technical assistance, skilled development for teachers, lesson plans, and evaluation strategies.

Recent Jersey schools are required to show climate change across all subjects, including visual and performing arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, world languages, computer science, and key skills. Here’s what that may appear like. Kindergarten through second graders can explore artwork responding to climate change from different perspectives. Grades three to 5 science classes may teach how energy and fuel are derived from natural resources and their impacts on the environment. Middle school students compare the environmental effects of various technologies that tackle climate change issues and evaluate them in computer science class. Highschool students collaborate with students from other countries in social studies class to develop solutions to environmental justice issues.

The ambition is commendable. Nevertheless, the truth is that climate education can’t be taught equally effectively throughout the state. In poorer districts, schools may lack the resources to implement this system; these are sometimes communities of color which might be most vulnerable to climate impacts.

“I feel they’re doing their best,” said Iyengar who’s a Recent Jersey resident. “But probably we should always have been doing this twenty years back.”

students sit around a table in a classroom

A Missouri fifth grade lab about glaciers and global warming. Photo: Jose Kevo

In 2022, Connecticut passed a law requiring public schools to include lessons on human caused climate change into their science curriculum according to the NGSS starting this July. Ninety percent of the state’s schools already teach climate change, but the brand new law ensures that climate education is not going to be subject to political or budget changes. Students will find out about man-made climate change, its impacts on various communities, and potential solutions. Fifth, eighth and eleventh graders will probably be tested on their understanding of climate change.

Oregon educators have drafted a bill that might require climate education across all subjects in grades K through 12. They’re currently looking for support for it.

Massachusetts, a science and biotech center, ranked very low in a study of climate change curriculum policy. The state’s science framework does mention climate change, but not what districts must teach, and climate change is just not included within the state’s elementary learning standards. Students may find out about weather, but not necessarily the way it pertains to climate change. There are outside efforts to expand climate education, nonetheless, equivalent to Change is Easy, a nonprofit based in Beverly, MA, that gives climate change and sustainability programs to elementary and middle schools.

“The present state of climate education within the U.S. is fast evolving, and really it’s very promising,” said Iyengar. ”It’s fast evolving on the policy level, but the present practice of climate education in the faculties has yet to see the sunshine. It’s a slow and evolving process.”

What’s slowing progress?


A 2021 report found that 78 percent of registered voters support climate education, including liberal to conservative Democrats, Independents, moderate Republicans, and even 46 percent of conservative Republicans. But while most blue states have good climate education standards, the standard of climate education in red states varies.

The Republican party platform in Oklahoma, a top natural gas–producing state, where 43 percent of Republicans support climate education, reads: “We oppose the teaching of the speculation of anthropogenic global warming without providing equal time for instruction within the complex systems of geo-physics [sic] that cause observable climate change, equivalent to solar variations, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions.” It doesn’t mention that 99.9 percent of scientists are in agreement that human activity is warming the planet. While state boards of education and college superintendents will not be certain by party platforms, it could be difficult for them to avoid political influence.

Other red states undermine climate education by ignoring it or sowing doubt concerning the scientific consensus. In Florida, the term “climate change” is absent from the education standards for elementary and middle school, which haven’t been updated since 2008. South Dakota introduced laws calling for the “balanced teaching of worldwide warming.” And Kentucky introduced a bill that encourages teachers to show “the benefits and drawbacks of scientific theories,” equivalent to global warming. In 2009, the Texas Board of Education said that teachers must present either side—the impacts of human activity and natural causes—when discussing global warming. Many teachers recognize that climate change is a political issue, so teaching “either side” of the difficulty is a approach to avoid controversy.

The 2016 study found that 30 percent of teachers taught that recent changes in climate were because of natural causes, with 12 percent not emphasizing human causes in any respect. Data shows that what teachers understand concerning the scientific consensus on climate change largely aligns with their political ideology.


Because climate change has been politicized, textbook publishers often use ambiguous language that avoids controversy to secure approval for his or her books by the boards of education of the big markets. Texas, the highest oil- and natural gas–producing state within the nation, can also be the biggest marketplace for science textbooks for K-12 and has its own science standards.

A recent study of 57 college biology textbooks published between 1970 and 2019 found that within the 2010s, coverage of climate change decreased. The high point was a mean of 52 sentences about climate change within the 2000s, nevertheless it dropped to 45 sentences within the 2010s. Furthermore, solutions to climate change, which had comprised 15 percent of the climate content within the Nineteen Nineties, fell to a few percent. Details about climate change was also left to the last two percent of the text, making the subject easier to shortchange if teachers run out of time.

Fossil fuel educational resources

The fossil fuel industry directly provides educational resources. “There’s been a multibillion-dollar campaign [by the fossil fuel industry] to make the American public doubt climate change, and a few of it has been specifically targeted at children,” in response to Katie Value, creator of Miseducation: How Climate Change is Taught in America. This takes the shape of fossil fuel– friendly educational lessons created by the fossil fuel industry, in addition to skilled development seminars for teachers. Value found educational programs funded by the fossil fuel industry in 25 states. For instance, the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board was found to have spent almost $40 million on pro-fossil fuel industry educational materials over the past 20 years. Pro-fossil fuel programs promote the concept that energy regulation will hurt the free market and that renewable energy is unreliable.

In a single Arkansas classroom, a visiting oil and gas industry representative from Arkansas Energy Rocks told students about problems with renewable energy, how access to reliable electricity might be a matter of life and death, and that if the U.S. shut down all fossil fuel use tomorrow, it might make a miniscule dent in global warming. Arkansas Energy Rocks provides classroom speakers, K-12 lessons, and free summer workshops for teachers.

The necessity for skilled development

Fossil fuel industry-sponsored skilled development workshops for teachers are insidious because many teachers feel they themselves don’t know enough about climate change to show it. Even schools where there are climate education standards may fall short because their teachers need more training.

instructors sit on a log in a forest

An earth science teacher workshop on salamanders and climate change. Photo: Shenandoah National Park

The chief director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center said that teachers need higher training, complete guidelines, and instructional materials to show climate change. Teachers themselves recognize this. One survey reported that the 2 biggest things teachers said they wanted to handle climate change more effectively was details about what to do and the resources to do it.

Responding to the necessity for more skilled development, many organizations are providing resources. To call a couple of, Subject to Climate, staffed by teachers, scientists and climate activists, provides lesson plans that integrate climate change for K-12 in all subjects. Clime Time offers science teacher training, linking NGSS with climate science. Globe.gov,  a global science and education program, offers hands-on interdisciplinary activities and inquiries into various Earth systems. Teachers  can access educational resources focused on K-12 students, including Earth science storybooks, lesson plans, and activities for youngsters of all ages.

The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which works closely with the Columbia Climate School, offers the NASA Climate Change Research Initiative for teachers and graduate students. It’s a year-long opportunity to work directly with NASA scientists and lead research teams on a NASA research project related to climate change. Matthew Pearce, NASA education program specialist, said, “The teacher needs to be teaching a course that’s relevant to the project, and has to have material competence in that field. And what we attempt to do is align the teacher’s experience on this program with their immediate regular school needs.” In the summertime, a highschool and undergrad intern are added to the project team. Teachers are then challenged to translate a component of their NASA research topic and experience leading the research teams right into a unit plan to implement of their classrooms, and to integrate NASA‘s many educational resources into that plan while performing community STEM engagement events.

Roughly 160 teachers, graduate students, and interns have passed through this system, which takes place at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Recent York City or NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. “The teachers that come through this program find yourself being very substantial ambassadors for us going forward,” said Pearce. One such example is Sarah Slack, an eighth grade science teacher in Brooklyn, who’s teaching hands-on climate science with the assistance of NASA’s resources—innumerable tools, platforms, programs, and teams NASA offers for teachers.Most of the teachers have also been successful in publishing their work through NASA and other scientific journals. Pearce said the goal can also be to “Attempt to create strong pipelines and STEM ecosystems for his or her students and communities to use to our internship program or engage with our other education and citizen science programs, equivalent to NASA’s Science Activation Program.” The Science Activation Program puts together teams from across the nation to have interaction learners with NASA teams, science experts, andcommunity leaders on quite a lot of science projects.

“I feel very positive about climate education,” said Pearce. “The teachers I’ve worked with are deeply impassioned to learn more and share that with their students, and take a look at to be a part of the answer. I see students in elementary school, teachers, and community members really learning to contribute and really craving to make a difference.”

Beyond just the facts

Young people have many feelings and emotions about climate change; these often stem from their connections to and feelings for nature. Teachers must acknowledge this.

young people holding signs in a climate march

Pittsburgh climate strike of 2022. Photo: Mark Dixon

“The element of caring for one another and caring for the planet must be integrated [into climate education],” said Iyengar. “When you’re not emotionally connected together with your environment, it’s very difficult to avoid wasting it.“ And what helps students take care of their feelings are solutions, so teachers must offer opportunities for collective motion and problem solving.

Iyengar believes social emotional learning is vital. Social emotional learning refers to the talents people have to be successful in life, equivalent to self-awareness, goal setting, managing emotions, cultivating empathy, social awareness, relationship skills, problem-solving, and making good decisions. In climate education, incorporating social emotional learning might include recognizing that humans are a part of the online of life, promoting understanding of environmental justice issues, fostering collaborative problem solving to assist develop solution, and likewise introducing a spiritual reference to nature.

The best way to advance climate education

Parents and students don’t must feel helpless concerning the state of climate education of their communities because there are actions they will take. Concerned parents can talk concerning the need for climate education with other parents and discover like-minded individuals with which to hitch forces. Parents and communities also needs to support teachers who need to teach climate change, but face political pressure.

Local school boards have the facility to shape the curriculum, so parents and students can attend school board meetings to push their school districts to adopt science standards that incorporate climate change. They can even request meetings with the principal of the varsity or individual school board members.

“Students have lots of power,” said Iyengar. “There’s lots of advocacy and community mobilization to be done. Students generally is a big a part of raising these issues. They’ll form collectives and ask the Republican or Democratic candidates running for election what their climate agenda is and hold them accountable.” Everyone can write to their representatives in Congress and urge them to mandate climate education.

“There may be loads that will be done at a giant scale, at a small scale in your personal classroom, and in your personal homes—climate education is just not only what we do in the lecture rooms,” said Iyengar. “I feel we have to be taking a look at it rather more comprehensively. We’re all on this together.”

From February 23 to 25, the Center for Sustainable Development on the Columbia Climate School and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network USA will host the web the US Summit on Transformative Education 2023. The Summit will bring together organizations, state departments of education, academics, teachers, schools, school principals, university leaders, the private sector, and youth to share ideas and best practices, and discuss and showcase research, case studies, and more about transforming education, including climate change education. It’s open to all.


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