Environmental Literacy: Are we teaching students the skills they need to face the realities of climate change?

In early October 2014 the Pentagon announced that climate change is an immediate threat to national security as it will cause an increased likelihood of displaced people due to widespread famine, rising sea levels, the spread of infectious disease, and increased poverty. The Pentagon has spoken. There is no more denying it. Climate change is real, and the consequences are dire.

It’s not that I ever doubted this, but there was still something sobering about the Pentagon’s announcement. As an educator, this somber reality made me ask myself two important questions: Will climate change be the single greatest obstacle today’s students face in the future? And if so, what am I, as an educator, doing to prepare them for this monumental change? I have no answers, but I have some ideas that may be useful as a starting point for further discussion.

The consequences of climate change will be environmental, social, political and economic. Solutions will have to take interdisciplinary approaches and incorporate research strategies that integrate the hard sciences with methods of the soft sciences. Fostering interdisciplinary and holistic learning beginning at an early age will give students an edge when approaching the complex problems that surely lie ahead.

Climate Change

It is important that our students learn the history of climate change. They need to know that the Kyoto Accord was a failure and that more than two decades were wasted before any real discussion of global action began. They need to learn that political differences and economic theory have threatened our very ability to sustain life on this planet. Only by learning from these mistakes will the next generation of leaders be able deal with the political issues specific to the realities of climate change as they occur.

Our students will need great compassion when facing the challenges of climate change. If the Pentagon is right, millions stand to suffer from the complex consequences the world is about to face. Teaching students the principles of social justice and peace will, hopefully, help them deal with future crises in a humane way. The arts have a huge role to play in this. Literature, music, and art have always been at the forefront of social theory and criticism. Through these disciplines we must teach our students how to love, dream, hope, and create.

Voting participation among our youth is almost non-existent. Along with teaching our students about the power structures that have led to our current climate crisis, we need to teach that them they are not powerless against these structures and that their votes matter. Our students will inherit the future, and they need to take control of it. If a single cohort of high school graduates decided to exercise their right to vote in an election, it would be enough to sway the vote in just about any direction they pleased. It is clear our leaders have dropped the ball on climate change. We need to create a generation who won’t.

Davenport, Coral. “Pentagon Signals Security Risks of Climate Change.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 13 October 2013.Web. 2 December 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/us/pentagon-says-global-warming-presents-immediate-security-threat.html?_r=0

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