Fixing Climate Education

Paul Hart/Flickr


True or false?: Today, climate change is overwhelmingly caused by human activity.

If you asked this question of a climate scientist, there’s almost a 100 percent likelihood they’ll say “true”. But ask the average American the same question, and your chances of hearing “true” are only 50/50.

Why is there such a huge gap between the scientific consensus and what Americans know?

Part of the problem is that our education system isn’t addressing the subject adequately. A new study in the journal Science shows that not only are teachers devoting little time to climate change in the classroom, they’re also often giving students false information by downplaying human influence.

Up-to-date standards for science curricula, and better teacher training are needed to get young people the vital information they need to address climate change. Lessons-learned in the nonprofit community can help guide these discussions.

One of the most promising approaches to climate education comes from EarthShare member charity Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). Since 2009, ACE has given compelling presentations on climate change to nearly 2 million high school students across the country. Their assemblies have spawned action teams, fellowships and a robust student network. In addition, their lesson plans and videos are used by high school teachers across the country.

“The over-politicization and unnecessary contentiousness of the issue make it easy for teachers to look the other way,” says ACE Executive Director Matt Lappé. “But teachers that devote adequate time on accurate climate science instruction are unsung heroes. We work with these teachers every day. All teachers should know that they aren’t alone and organizations like ACE are here to support them.”

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program also equips educators to inspire students for positive action. Geared toward younger students, the program trained over 2000 educators around the world in 2014. 92 percent of these educators reported that most of their students demonstrated increased compassion for people, animals, and the planet after their lessons.

The National Wildlife Federation has programs for both primary and secondary educators that include climate change lessons. Their Eco-Schools USA program has been helping improve environmental education and site sustainability since 1994. A similar program for university students - Campus Ecology - has also been active for 25 years. The latter has helped several university groups implement actions like greenhouse gas inventories and net-zero campus plans.

And it’s not only schools that are benefiting from this work. EarthShare member charity National Environmental Education Foundation partners with organizations of all kinds to make sure that regular people are getting factual, understandable information about climate change. Their resources have been used by large companies and groups like the Hispanic Communications Network. Their online courses also help teachers explain everything from drought to extreme weather.

We are doing a disservice to both students and educators by failing to teach climate facts. Many Americans understandably feel confused about climate change, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks to resources provided by EarthShare member groups, a growing number of Americans are learning about climate change, and what they can do to help solve the problem.



Environmental Literacy Report 2015, National Environmental Education Foundation

Teens Lead on Climate, Alliance for Climate Education

How Do You Become an Eco-School?, National Wildlife Federation



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