Chapter 1: The Leap

IN THIS CHAPTER I PROVIDED A CONTEXT FOR THE WORK AHEAD OF US. PART OF THIS IS THE GROWING ACCEPTANCE OF ADULTS AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY CHILDREN, ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE BEING A REALITY AND THAT HUMANS ARE RESPONSIBLE. One of the arguments I make about us as educators is that to teach climate change effectively, we can’t treat it like another topic added to the curriculum, there are a number of things we have to take into account and a lot to learn.

What this is

The visualization below comes from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It illustrates how future warming depends on various emissions scenarios, and shows how the past, present and future of climate change will impact the lives of generations born in 1950, 1980, and 2020.

From: Andrew Freedman, The one UN climate report graphic you need to see, Axios

Why you might find this interesting

It underscores the responsibility people currently have to alter course on greenhouse gas emissions in the decades and centuries ahead.

  • For the 1950s group, much of the climate change they have experienced has occurred since the 1970s, when the fingerprints of greenhouse gases became more pronounced.
  • Those born in 1980 have already seen large and rapid shifts in climate, and will be 70-years-old during the middle of the century, which is the time frame for when nations’ emissions are supposed to hit net zero.
  • People born in 2020, however, could see a world that warms dramatically more than it has so far if emissions remain high.

Why it might matter for your teaching

It underscores the responsibility people currently have to change course on greenhouse gas emissions in the decades ahead, but mostly NOW.

Alex Ruane, a member of the IPCC report’s core writing team and a NASA climate researcher, tells Axios the generational icons show three groups of people, rather than only the oldest and youngest groups.

  • It’s meant to depict how climate conversations are taking place today between grandparents, parents and children.
  • “Those conversations really are happening about the current state of the world and the future state of the world that we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren,” Ruane said in an interview.

Ruane said the youngest generation faces potentially sweeping shifts in the climate by the end of the century.

  • “I think this figure helps articulate, and it’s not just that [the climate is] getting warmer, but if you look at that furthest future generation, the difference between the upper body and the lower body is really the difference in the choices that we’re making,” Ruane said.
  • There is “a massive difference” of 2.5°C (4.5°F) between the upper and lower set of temperature projections by the time the younger generation has reached age 70 in 2090, he added.
  • This is more than twice as large of a difference as the entire warming the world has faced to date, which is now about 1.2°C (2.16°F) compared to the preindustrial era.

How it might help students

The “massive difference” between the temperatures your students experience now and what they will potentially experience by the time they are 70 is sobering, and I don’t know if I would dwell on that in classrooms. This is one of those visualizations that you have make a decision about: “Show my students or not?” If you do, it may be helpful to remind students that taking action now has a much larger positive effect than waiting months, years or decades. You could list all the regenerative strategies that are possible to keep emissions down and make sure all of nature’s carbon sinks are protected.

On a more critical level, the more affluent countries, primarily in the Global North will be buffered from the effect of climate change for a while. That middle age person who was born in 1980—they are not generic. It matters a great deal how they will be impacted if they live in Denmark or Pakistan.

What this is

The pie charts below are from a nationally representative sample of 1,500 middle school and high school science teachers. These data were not in the chapter but comes from the same study as cited on page 12. The authors said of the results:

Why you might find this interesting

The charts indicate that there is some climate change teaching going on, but the last line below indicates that shows the total amount of time spent each year is minimal, and the author’s quote above speaks to a challenge that we can tackle together—that is getting away from “patchwork” exposures for students to more coherent and cumulative grade-to-grade CC curriculum.

pie charts showing how teachers talk about climate change or not.

Only 4.4% of teachers reported pressure not to teach climate change (and this was largely from their teaching colleagues).

Three in four science teachers allocate at least an hour to discussing climate change

Most teachers cover the greenhouse effect, the carbon cycle, and four or more consequences, such as sea-level rise, or changes in seasonal patterns, like the flowering of plants and animal migrations.

Of those who teach climate change, 31% emphasize both the scientific consensus that global warming is due to human activity and that many scientists believe recent increases in temperature are due to natural causes.

Why it might matter for your teaching

Consider sitting down with peers and mapping out who is teaching what about climate change or regeneration or environmental justice of any kind. Chapters 3 and 4 will help you all become familiar with “what is in this mix.” What big ideas are being addressed and in what order and by whom? What are the gaps? This is just a start, but its a good place to begin, by seeing both the forest and the trees.

What this is

This is just for fun. Famed climate author Elizabeth Kolbert takes us on an alphabetical tour of climate change, and along the way, helps us connect ideas we may not have considered to be part of that journey.

“G” for Green Concrete—Kolbert explains why this is worth paying attention to.

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