How should we teach about climate change?

I am excited to see “This Changes Everything,” director Avi Lewis’s new movie based on Naomi Klein’s book.

But it raises the question of how best to teach students about climate change. Ten years ago, I was trying to acquaint my students with the greenhouse effect; five years ago, I was having them read about the COP15, as we waited to see what Barack Obama might do. Last year, I took my students to the state capitol in Salem, hoping to participate in hearings on a proposed carbon tax. We also hosted a sparsely attended evening on young people and climate action.

So what should we be doing as educators about this issue? Teaching about the threat of climate change just scares them. But empowering students to act on a global issue of this scale is challenging.

My seniors last fall found their projects frustrating and disappointing. They had hoped to see results from their hard work and their encounter with the state legislature was not empowering. They prepared handouts, wrote questions for legislators to ask during hearings, and went to Salem ready to share what they had learned. But their longest conversation was with a representative who did not even believe in climate change, let alone a carbon tax. They went home disappointed.

So what kind of work should (and can) students do in a course on global issues? Is more knowledge–of the groups working on the issue, of the stances by governments–enough? If students pursue action, how can it lead to raised hope and enthusiasm?


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