Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, higher ocean temperatures, shrinking glaciers and melting polar ice caps– are the first things that we think of when we hear of climate change.
Though true, that isn’t all climate change can do or has done.
Ranging from famines, droughts, floods to energy and health crises, climate change’s impacts are embedded in almost every aspect of our life. The World Bank suggests that the implications of climate change in India alone could lead to food and agricultural crises and affect water security, energy security and even migration.
Climate Change requires urgent attention, and it does concern us all. But the question is, do we see it as such?
The answer seems to be no. As per a recent Washington Post poll, only 49% of teens and young adults said they consider climate change to be a major threat to their generation. The planet is warming faster than ever before, the last decade has been the warmest in history, but our understanding of the climate crises leaves a lot to be desired.
Research suggests that the general public tends to perceive climate change as a psychologically distant phenomenon—something that, if at all, happens not here, not now, and not to oneself. For the creation of that distance, how we’re educated on the subject needs to be held accountable.
For the longest time, our primary understanding of climate change and global warming has come from our science school textbooks or disaster management books.
Our attention has been directed towards the scientific aspects of climate change and how it will affect the planet– not on the nearly 8 billion people living on that planet.
Though a natural phenomenon, it is one caused by humans and one that stands to affect all spheres of human life.
Our science-only approach to climate change makes it sound like it’s always somebody else’s problem and not ours, which in turn, seemingly invalidates the urgency.
Climate change education needs to be integrated into mainstream social sciences.
Climate change isn’t a change of the future, it is a change in motion in our present. Five million deaths are linked to it each year across the globe– a number that comes down to some 13,000 each day.
India’s own first-ever climate change assessment report found that between 1951 and 2016, both the frequency and intensity of droughts had increased. In the same period, the number of heavy rainfall days has climbed by an alarming 75%. Communities across India and the globe are facing threats posed by climate change.
Ms Sushmita Patel, Climate Policy Manager at Youth Ki Awaaz believes an improved approach could help us better understand the urgency of climate change. “With climate change affecting how our meals look like, what we earn, where and how we live and what opportunities we have access to, it is important to link all these and tie them up to the phenomenon of climate change,” she explains.
Research suggests those who felt psychologically closer to the phenomenon expressed greater concern towards it. That very psychological distance can be reduced through better education on the subject.
The complexities of the climate crisis require addressing them with a holistic approach that draws upon many disciplines including climate science, history, law and policy, ethics, sociology and economics. Their intersection can improve our understanding of the causes of climate change while providing us with solutions and equipping us with the tools to bring change at an individual and community level.
Generations of marginalization have left some communities more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than others. Initial inequalities, such as poverty, cause disadvantaged groups to suffer disproportionately from adverse effects of climate change, like droughts and floods, resulting in greater subsequent inequality, research suggests.
Without proper historical and social backgrounds of their circumstances, it has become a challenge to engage and garner the support of such groups when it comes to combating climate change.
“The absence of consultations and inclusivity is what often derails accountability in decision implementation and results in an uproar of unacceptability by those who are impacted by it,” Ms Patel explains.
Furthermore, the inclusion of history in climate education can provide crucial contexts to our present situation. It can allow us to understand how ambitious states have been built upon social inequalities while creating a highly unstable relationship with their surroundings. It can bridge the disconnect between humanity’s social and technological advancements over centuries and the grim realities produced precisely as a result of such ‘advancements’.
Similarly, Political Science can help improve our climate change advocacy, providing insight into the role of different groups and political institutions in the decision-making process. It can equip and empower individuals to organise and have a say when it comes to climate change.
It can also provide an objective viewpoint on many ethical and moral questions are raised in attempts to address climate change, such as finding the right balance between securing our future generations and protecting the interest of the present ones.
View this post on Instagram
Basic economics can help students understand the impact of climate change on the economy– how it can lead to inflation, increase poverty and how it can affect both short-term and long-term growth. Although the impact of climate change on the economy has increasingly been the driver of change at the international level, it has never been given the same importance in our education of the concept.
It can help us manage our resources better by providing an improved model for sustainable use of natural resources in the form of tools such as taxes, quotas, grants, subsidies, licences and market rights.
Moreover, it can familiarise us with the relevant economic instruments required to mitigate climate change and provide practical and meaningful solutions to problems caused by climate change.
An improved Climate Education can help people understand and address the impacts of climate crises better while empowering them with the knowledge and skills required to act as agents of change.
When it comes to the inclusion of climate change in educational curriculum at a young age, the key lies in simplification, says Ms Patel. Climate change and its effects are affecting all aspects of our lives and, as a result, it becomes important to introduce it as just that.
Ms Patel further adds, “Associating an ‘everything we do and are’ identity to climate change could hold value in imparting education centred around climate change.” And research backs it up.
This, however, is only one step in identifying climate change as pervasive in human life.
“The next step is in developing mechanisms to integrate into education – solutions-based perspectives for combating climate change,” Ms Patel further explains. Such circumstances ask for accountability, not only from individuals but from our institutions too. “It cannot be an approach that is solely centred around individual actions, but inclusive of institutional accountability and transformation,” says Ms Patel.
Educating future generations about the causes and effects of global climate change is imperative since implementing solutions depends on an informed public, for both societal and individual level actions. Actions taken today can and will improve our ability to respond and adapt to change in the future.