Climate Change and Environmental Education

April 11-17 is National Environmental Education Week , the nation’s largest environmental education event held each year the week before Earth Day. EE Week connects educators with environmental resources to promote K-12 students’ understanding of the environment, and is a program of the National Environmental Education Foundation . So how does climate change education fit in with environmental education? A recent 40th Anniversary edition of the Journal of Environmental Education features reflections on where the field of EE has been and where it should be headed. One article, “Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities in Environmental Education: Where are we Headed and What Deserves Our Attention?” (Marcinowski, 2010 ), describes climate change as one of the top challenges to the field of environmental education. Additionally, a recent report, Environmental Education Professional Needs and Priorities Study (Fleming, 2009 ) showed that 43% of environmental educators from around the nation ranked climate change as “very important” to their professional development needs. Clearly we think climate change is important, but we also think it is a natural topic for environmental educators to address. Harold Hungerford, a long-time expert in EE describes it as “an interdisciplinary effort aimed at helping learners gain the knowledge and skills that would allow them to understand the complex environmental issues facing society as well as the ability to deal effectively and responsibly with them.” (Hungerford, 2010 ) Climate change effects all levels of society, as well as biological, chemical and physical systems. Not only is it the perfect interdisciplinary topic, when taught in this way it becomes much more relevant to students. In addition, it is topic that if taught without including problem solving, students, or “learners,” as Hungerford calls them, are left feeling hopeless and disempowered. Therefore not only is climate change, THE important topic, and challenge, for today’s environmental educators, it is imperative that it be taught with environmental education principles in mind. It must be interdisciplinary, and it must emphasize problem solving skills and issues resolution; fundamentals of environmental education.

To learn more about National Environmental Education Week, watch this video from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

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