Position Statement on Climate Change Education in the Humanities

This fall/winter we are releasing new humanities content for English language arts (ELA), social studies, art, and environmental studies classes. The following position statement gives reasoning for the importance of including climate change education in humanities classes.

Introduction

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century (NASA). This temperature rise has happened because of an increased release of greenhouse gases through the use of fossil fuels. These greenhouse gases trap heat in a necessary phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect. However, more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing more warming that hasn’t been seen in hundreds of thousands of years. Over 97% of climate scientists agree this is happening and that it is predominantly human caused. An understanding of the science of climate change is important to establish a foundation in, but not limited to:

  • the causes, including the burning of fossil fuels and the release of methane from permafrost
  • the impacts, including sea level rise and extreme weather
  • and solutions, including carbon removal and engineered adaptations

The causes, impacts, and solutions to climate change lie in both human dimensions and science. Climate change is fundamentally driven by a world based in a fossil fuel economy which many have benefited from politically, socially, and economically. Climate change impacts all of us, but some more than others, and it is essential to understand the history of inequity and injustice that is embedded in these disproportionate impacts. Finally, the solutions to climate change are multi-pronged. Many lie in economic incentives, growing political will and equitable policies, and building understanding with people from different backgrounds, histories, and perspectives.

In addition, it is impossible to disregard the societal and political denial of decades of peer-reviewed scientific literature, driven predominantly by fossil fuel economic interests. An understanding that the perceived controversy of climate change is not scientific in nature, but based in social, economic, and political interests is essential. Being able to communicate and discern credible sources is also of utmost importance.

Climate Change Education

Climate change education has historically been tied to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines, but climate change is an issue that impacts political, social, and economic dimensions and can be used as an integrating context for all subjects. Support for including climate change beyond science is grounded by a recent statement from the National Science Teachers Association which advocates for “integrating climate and climate change science across the K-12 curriculum beyond STEM.” Because climate change is inherently interdisciplinary, it is an essential component of a comprehensive education in the humanities. The study of humanities focuses on reading, writing, and social studies, which includes geography, political science, history, economics, English, and the arts.

At Climate Generation, we recognize the complexity of climate change and the importance of  interdisciplinary climate change education. Our curriculum resources are aligned to science, social studies, and language arts standards and encourage student thinking beyond science alone. Our professional development opportunities support teaching across the curriculum and have been attended by teachers of all disciplines over the last 14 years.

We know that climate change education that integrates the humanities works. After spending three years working with an independent school to integrate climate change specifically into their 6th grade humanities curriculum, we have seen results. When assessed on their climate knowledge and engagement, the 6th grade students who learned about climate change through the humanities performed equal to or better than the 8th graders who only learned about climate change in their science class.

This year, Climate Generation will focus more deeply on the humanities as an essential component of any comprehensive climate change education. Our resources will include curriculum resources, a list and summary of relevant climate change books, webinars, and supportive professional development.

To support the reading of climate fiction and non-fiction, we have developed a reader’s guide for all ages that gives summaries, discussion questions, and relevant news articles to bring climate change literature to the forefront. Our #TeachClimate Network meets monthly to discuss many of these books, as well as the challenges and successes of integrating climate change in all educational settings. Later this year, we will be releasing two modules, with two more on the way, in a growing collection of middle school climate change humanities curriculum.

We will revise our existing curriculum resource, formerly called Citizen Climate, to highlight the process of building climate action from the local to international level. In addition, the 2019 Summer Institute for Climate Change Education will feature the humanities and resources to integrate climate change into social studies, language arts, geography, environmental studies, and other humanities classrooms. Finally, we invite local, regional, and national professional organizations in humanities education to consider adopting position statements like ours highlighting not only the importance, but also effectiveness, of learning about climate change beyond the science classroom.

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