2020 has been called a ‘Super Year’ for increased ambition across governments and across society and nations are being asked to submit enhanced national climate plans known as NDCs under the formal UN process. Climate is an intergenerational challenge of awesome proportions and one that will not be solved by a short term technological fix but rather requires a long-term socio-economic behavioral change.
This means, many experts believe, that there is great urgency to increase the coverage, depth and quality of climate education if a new generation is to cope with the challenges of climate and environmental change that are rapidly emerging world-wide.
Today much of that education seems quite negative, with a focus on disappearing species, a world drowning in plastic, a future of drought and floods. While this may all be true young people need to understand the power of creating solutions and taking action.
Linking environmental education with civic education is another way of linking teaching to real experiences and could prove a powerful response to children and citizens around the world who are agitating for action. The importance of a change in our overall thinking and praxis could underpin a step-change in the need for action on climate change.
Yet climate is taught in a piecemeal fashion and what does exist is hidden in different silos across science, geography, history, social and more. Environmental literacy used to be a big deal - in the US in the 70’s it was considered critical as part of national security. Today however, education around the world uses different facts and figures dependent on political affiliation.
The challenges children face are too important for this not to be addressed. Nick Nuttall, Strategic Communications Director at the Earth Day Network warns that we have already lost a couple of generations since the original introduction of environmental education and says, “Don’t lose more to muddled thinking and incoherent information.”
As it stands, few countries offer climate education at a level sufficient to support long term change. There is however a critical momentum building, with both Italy and Mexico having announced that climate education will become compulsory in 2020. In Mexico it has even been added to the constitution, putting its implementation beyond the political cycles of government. In December 2019 at the Madrid climate negotiations, the Earth Day Network, the UN, education NGOs and such countries announced plans to promote the idea that all countries adopt compulsory climate education.
Italy’s Minster of Education Lorenzo Fioramonti said that rather than teaching students about isolated subjects, climate education should encourage students to think in systems. “We need more and more systems thinkers and fewer erudites who know very well one thing but completely ignore all the rest,” said Fioramonti. “[Education is] about connecting knowledge and being able to see the interconnections across different types of knowledge.”
In the UK, where the next climate change conference is to be held in Glasgow in late 2020, it’s something that all educators should keep in mind. Nuttall said plans should be in place by Earth Day 22nd April so that by the Glasgow negotiations in 2020 all countries will have adopted this as a critical outcome and central to addressing climate change. If that plan succeeds, it’ll be time to rethink the way that we teach as well as the way that we think.
This article first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Education Today