Why this topic matters
With the final stage of the latest IPCC report just released, climate change will once again become a point of discussion in the news and in classrooms. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is the world’s principal scientific body for understanding climate change. It is split into three working groups: Working Group I focuses on the physical science of climate change; Working Group II on climate impact, adaptation and vulnerability; Working Group III covers the mitigation of climate change, which is the latest report released.
The reports are a tough read, but we must find ways of communicating their seriousness without provoking unnecessary anxieties. Below, we outline a few ways to do this. By learning about the intricate problems of climate change whilst also exploring the many positive solutions to it, teachers can aim to stimulate what Friends of the Earth call ‘Active Hope’.
Although our situation is stark, the report is clear that there is still a window of opportunity for building the fairer greener world we all want. This is an opportunity to educate students about many systematic issues whilst also raising a new generation of engaged, conscientious environmentalists.
Connections to the curriculum
- Science: Explore the nature of scientific certainty around climate change, what variables do we have to measure?
- Geography: Examine the physical and social impacts of changing weather systems.
- Maths: Use IPCC data to teach about graphs or statistics.
- History: Research the history of international cooperation on global issues. How did we work together to close the ozone? What can we learn from past cooperative successes and failures?
- English: Write imaginative stories about possible climate futures. What do the good and bad worlds look like, how do their inhabitants feel?
How to approach it
Learning: Understand the science
It's obviously important that students have a good grasp of the science behind global warming and what the latest scientific consensus is. The general principles that students should be aware of here are that there is unequivocal evidence that human interference is causing global warming. There is agreement that our climate is warming and that until mid-century it will continue to warm whatever we do. There is currently a window of 20 decisive years where, through drastic emissions reductions, we can keep warming below a manageable level. This is a vital time for action because if the international community leaves it later than this, we will begin to lose control of temperature increases and we will enter extremely dangerous temperature levels. The main thing to emphasise here is that we need concerted action and we need it now. Going through climate science with students is an excellent opportunity to teach about weather systems, statistics and global cooperation. It has taken a massive coordinated effort to reach our current level of understanding and this should be celebrated - we need more of the same going forward. Use the excellent IPCC resources by Metlink below to cover the science in your classroom.
Balance: Focus on collective action
The effort required to halt global warming to manageable levels is often referred to as a mobilisation on the scale of World War Two. This is a problem that requires collective action and large-scale systemic change. Given that there is often an emphasis on individual actions such as recycling or meat-free diets, it is vital that educators re-balance the conversation to include both individual and collective action. To ensure systemic change we need to increase meaningful support for climate action in councils, parliament and among fellow citizens. Examples of this kind of action include demonstrating, conducting street outreach, engaging with local politicians and businesses or simply having as many conversations about climate change as possible. Encouraging students to think about the different kinds of collective action required will allow them to understand local, national and global political contexts. At the same time they will be able to see themselves as part of the wider international movement.
Compassion: Explain climate justice
As the IPCC Working Group II makes clear, to tackle climate change we have to tackle inequalities. Students should be encouraged to think compassionately about what a just, sustainable transition will look like. This will involve students thinking through how climate change may affect them and others around the world. The heart of the issue is that we will all be affected by climate change in some way, but the severity of the effects will be uneven. Western countries have contributed to the bulk of emissions yet are set to be less affected by extreme weather than the Global South. In the same way, lower income communities and indigenous people have less resources to effectively adapt, despite consuming far less. Help younger students understand these inequalities and the seriousness of the potential effects without scaring them. Talk about having less food available instead of famine, for example. Or ask: how would you feel if you had to move because it got too hot? You can also approach the issue by focusing on the positives here. We can act to mitigate climate change, we can help everyone to adapt. Show students that a just climate policy is the same as a just world: one where we treat others and the planet as we would wish to be treated. A compassionate world is still possible - so let’s go and build it.
Act: Look at the solutions
The most heartening thing about this situation is that there are many viable, interconnected solutions to get us out of this mess. What climate change has shown us clearly is that rampant overconsumption, pollution, greed and political domination are totally unsustainable. The IPCC report is conservative about pathways out of this crisis because they require drastic changes to our way of life. These changes however, if implemented properly, can radically improve things for everyone. It is essential that teachers cultivate a sense of wonder about what the world could look like if we built this possible world. Some examples of these kinds of policies are rewilding, organic permaculture farming, localised food systems, expansive public transport and clean energy to name a few. These are choices between a vibrant, caring world or a mean, barren one. Although many are in a dark place of denial right now, let's show this situation for what it is: an opportunity for better things to come. Ask students to draw or write about what this could look like. Empower them to explore a better future, show them that through engaging with the environmental movement, they can help to create it.