Mind Change to combat Climate Change


Having worked in science communication for more than a decade, I can attest that no issue has been more pressing or dominant for our field than climate change. Indeed, it is connected to all the critical issues endangering our world today despite the intentional or actual ignorance of many people. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the changing climate will have widespread effects on human life and ecosystems; it brings heat waves, flooding, droughts, intense tropical cyclones, rising sea levels, and damages biodiversity.

The scientific community has made the urgent need to mitigate climate change clear; with the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the international community has formally accepted ambitious mitigation goals. However, a wide gap remains between the aspirational emissions reduction goals of the Paris Agreement and the real-world pledges and actions of nations that are party to it. Closing that emissions gap can only be achieved if a similarly wide gap between scientific and societal understanding of climate change is also closed.

Addressing climate change will require action at all levels of society; it cannot be addressed by a few individuals with privileged access to information. It requires transfer of knowledge, both intellectually and affectively, to decision-makers and citizens at all levels. In the case of climate change, education is crucial because learning from experience is learning too late.

The delay between decisions that cause climate change and their full societal impact can range from decades to millennia; learning from education, rather than experience, is necessary to avoid those impacts. Climate change and sustainability represent complex, dynamic systems that demand a systems thinking approach. It takes a holistic, long-term perspective that focuses on relationships between interacting parts, and how those relationships generate behavior over time.

Education plays a central role in several processes that can accelerate social change and climate change mitigation. Effective climate change education increases the number of informed and engaged citizens, building social will or pressure to shape policy, and building a workforce for a low-carbon economy. Indeed, several climate change education efforts to-date have delivered gains in climate and energy knowledge, affect, and/or motivation.

“Climate literacy”, as UNESCO calls it, among young people, is a crucial step towards better education of upcoming generations; an essential element to foster the necessary global response to climate change. It encourages changes in attitudes and behavior, and helps adapt to climate change-related trends. Education provides children and young people the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about how to adapt individual lives and ecological, social, or economic systems in a changing environment.

It is vital that countries develop strategies to build resilience against climate change, and education is of the essence. It is not only about alleviating the effects of climate change, but also addressing, through educational resources, adaptation measures that are country-specific. Due to the non-discriminatory and wide-ranging impacts of climate change, formal and non-formal education is essential to educate citizens of all ages. For the youngest and future generations who will be most impacted by climate change, positive influences during the stages of an individual’s early life can contribute to a society that is equipped with the understanding, values, knowledge, and skills to tackle the causes and impact of climate change.



*The original article was published in SCIplanet, Sustainable Development Goals (Winter 2019) issue.

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