Changing the Climate Change Narrative

“We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward.”

Sound like the beginning of an epic novel? Or maybe the last words of a general to their troops before entering battle? Well, it was actually one of the closing statements made by Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, to people pushing for elevated climate change action after the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), according to UN News.

Guterres made this statement because, after two weeks of discussion and even extending the conference another day, leaders were forced to come to a compromise deal for their next steps on climate change. The outcome document, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, is meant to keep countries accountable for making progress toward reducing emissions for the next year until COP27. Discussions were moving positively until a last-minute request by India and China to change the phrase “phase out” to “phase down” coal use.

This article will discuss what else happened during the conference, and how you can change the climate change narrative for your students in the classroom.

The COP26

Negotiations are never easy, especially when they’re made among international leaders about the topic of climate change.

During the conference, government leaders were asked to stand firm on agreed-upon deadlines for reducing emissions and develop accelerated deadlines for future action. They aim to meet the goals set out by the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty on climate change, which sets to limit global warming to well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The Agreement, put into action on November 4, 2016, aims to unite countries in their goal to become carbon neutral across the world by mid-century.

The Glasgow Climate Pact requires leaders to set forth, with credibility, their efforts towards cutting down on carbon emissions and utilizing renewable resources in their country. The expectation is that leaders can increase climate ambition by 2030 by closing the gap on fossil fuel dependency.

While this was an incremental step toward the world we desperately need, countries like the Philippines, Turkey and Nigeria agreed it is not an aggressive enough plan.

According to a second UN News article, leaders from 120 countries that represented 90% of the world’s forests, vowed to “halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.”

Closer to home, the US and China “pledged to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. In a joint declaration, they said they had agreed to take steps on a range of issues, including methane emissions, transition to clean energy and decarbonization. They also reiterated their commitment to keeping the [3.6-degrees Fahrenheit] goal alive.”

This statement by US representatives is a real dedication to change and acknowledgment that global warming is a product of human negligence. In the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)’s Oxford Peoples Climate Vote Results survey of 2021, the US (65%) landed 21st on a list of 37 countries surveyed on whether or not they thought climate change was in a state of emergency. In addition, about 25% of the children under 18 surveyed in the US denied that global warming was an emergency, more than any other country surveyed in North America and Western Europe.

The need to educate the next generation about the reality of climate change could be the only way to truly make long-lasting conversions for the future.

Educating young people about climate change

Climate change threatens the livelihood of people all over the world. However, the UNDP found that women and girls living in poverty, as well as those who support local communities, are highly vulnerable to climate change and more supportive of aggressive policy developments related to it.

Because there is not only an age gap, but a gender gap as well, teachers have the opportunity to switch the script and change the narrative for generations to come. A 2019 NPR national poll found that most instructors do not teach climate change, because they believe it doesn’t fit within their curriculum.

According to the National Center for Science Education (NEA), the most important part of educating students on climate change is sending messages that there are consequences for their choices and actions. There is more to climate change than just an earth science subject that can be briefly mentioned. To which, the NEA suggests several books and websites on the subject of climate change based on grade level.

The challenge for students learning about the climate crisis is their sensitivity to the subject. It’s typical for students to feel an increased level of anxiety and helplessness once they understand the full scope of devastation on the planet. Committed to Climate and Energy Education (CLEAN) created a dedicated webpage on educating elementary-level students on the fundamentals of climate science. It offers effective strategies to address these concerns, such as:

  • Supporting data literacy and interpretation.
  • Encouraging action and solutions.
  • Making climate personally relevant and sustainable.
  • Grounding students in their own neighborhood’s opportunities.
  • Fostering empathy and care-taking.
  • Experimenting with hands-on learning to keep the subject light.
  • Finding ways to teach across subjects such as math and reading.

Perhaps these suggestions are to keep elementary school students engaged, but they are largely applicable to higher grade levels as well. Approaching the subject of climate change in every grade can evoke emotions of anxiety, yet students can feel more empowered with actionable and applicable opportunities to make a difference at all ages. Whether it’s being more conscious about the items they buy, how often they drive, or even writing letters to their local representatives, there are seemingly endless opportunities for students to take action against climate change.

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