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Learning for a Sustainable Future accepts the consensus of the scientific community that human-induced climate change is underway and that impact at some level cannot be avoided. LSF also supports the view that the degree of harm resulting from human-induced climate change can be greatly decreased by taking action now and that action will be required for the foreseeable future.
Climate change is the most complex and wide-reaching challenge facing humankind today; it is essential that we help younger generations to be better equipped to take on this challenge and that we call on their energy, creativity and need to contribute to help us all take up the task.
While climate change presents educators with daunting challenges, these challenges also present valuable opportunities to evolve practice so that students have a sound understanding of climate change and get involved in contributing to solutions in their schools and communities.
The scope of climate change and its impacts is immense. Everything we do depends on a stable climate. Our understanding of climate change and its impacts requires an understanding of multiple related systems including physical (glaciers, rivers, sea levels), biological (terrestrial, marine) and human (agriculture, energy, health, economy).
A challenge of this complexity provides endless opportunities for learning, from dissecting the individual systems above, to developing critical thinking and media literacy skills, to exploring multiple sources of information to really comprehend the full scope of the issue
Discussion of climate change can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety and cause people to distance themselves from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it. So how do we address emotions in the teaching of climate change?
Every individual is different, and emotional responses are influenced by the beliefs, worldviews, and existing emotions each individual brings to the table. Classroom cultures of trust must be created where the range of students’ perspectives and questions students have on climate change can be expressed and explored through group knowledge building and critical reflection. There are many ways to approach climate change; there is room for fear and hope, wonder and suspense, sadness and curiosity, and all the rest of human emotion.
Addressing climate change requires us to question many of society’s norms. This includes: how we define progress and the role of science and technology; capitalism, material growth and consumerism; exploitation of nature; and the dominance of individualistic values, such as freedom, independence, success, performance, social recognition, and comfort. An effective understanding of climate change will be transdisciplinary, apply systems perspectives, span from local to global considerations, and cultivate respectful ways of approaching contested positions—all approaches that are transferable to supporting students’ development in other areas!
Conventional teaching, based on information transfer and finding the “right” answers, does not align well with the complexity of climate change education. With the internet at their fingertips, students have access to more information than they could ever process. And society has not yet found the right answers when it comes to climate change. Our students need more.
Education reforms now promote strategies such as Transformative Learning, Education for Sustainable Development, 21st Century Learning, and others that are better suited to tackling complex problems like climate change. These strategies often begin with the understanding and experiences that students bring with them. Educators, who themselves are grappling with climate change issues, take the role of facilitator and guide learners with their questions. School learning is brought into contact with the real world, allowing learners to cultivate creativity and innovation as they bump into real-life complexities. Students develop the attitudes and skill sets necessary to address challenges to which we don’t yet have the right answers, the same skills they need to be successful individuals, citizens and entrepreneurs.