What is climate change?
Climate change is a planetary puzzle that involves interactions among the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land, life, and human behavior. Our species—specifically decisions we make and the inaction we tolerate—continues to put natural systems at risk, which in turn, impacts our own physical and emotional health, ability to grow food, housing, and livelihoods. None of this is sustainable, nor are the vulnerabilities justly distributed across human communities. Fortunately there are many ways to slow warming and its downstream effects, but all such strategies have to be implemented at scale and without delay. Decarbonizing our future will depend less on technological innovations and more on transformations in how we live, eat, move, work, govern ourselves, and what we value.
What are our goals for students?
Can you see in the composite below some of what we’ll want to attend to? Socio-emotional well-being, links between past, present and future, climate solutions, geo-physical systems, disinformation, ideology and skepticism, biological systems, environmental justice and activism, designing learning experiences, Indigenous sciences, regeneration strategies.
Students should understand the science behind climate change, its uncertainties, and climate change’s impacts on both natural systems and human communities. This would be an incomplete story, however, without including the histories of colonization around the world that laid the foundation for unfettered resource extraction, separating peoples from their lands, and a belief that (some) humans are separate from and superior to other forms of life.
Students should also understand the range of ways to regenerate the living Earth through equitable means of mitigation and adaptation, and to determine what kinds of actions they can take to support just transitions toward sustainable futures for everyone. Finally, we should not overlook the need for students to cope productively with emotional responses to climate anxiety and feelings of environmental loss. These goals are not isolated ideas—one of the big take-aways for learners is that everything is connected.
Our role as trusted messengers
Within this vision, we are trusted messengers for sharing evidence-based ideas and responsible stances about humans’ relationships with the environment. In addition to delivering such messages, we also support knowledge-building communities in our classrooms, where students are asked to develop and revise explanations (both scientific and social) for phenomena they find compelling, frame problems for themselves, learn to ask their own questions and determine what resources they need to answer them.
With humility, we should model continuous learning about the science and the legacies of consumption that continue to drive climate disruption. And finally, we must provide support for students to process their emotions, even as we are figuring out our own feelings about possible futures that lay ahead.