As I head back to school and prepare to teach my students all about environmental topics, including atmospheric pollution and climate change, I’m reflecting on the importance of climate literacy for everyone. I’ve been extremely disappointed by recent comments from politicians that demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of basic science principles including human reproduction and transmission of infectious disease, or a complete denial of climate science. If these politicians are representing my interests, shouldn’t they understand scientific principles that impact me? Shouldn’t we all understand how the world works, whether it’s human biology or atmospheric science?
I graduated from high school in 1999, and while I took many science courses, I never took a course in environmental science and I never learned any of these topics. I majored in Biology and spent hours dissecting specimens, but I never learned about climate change. I became interested in environmental topics and started educating myself on my own time by reading articles and books, watching documentaries and talking to other educated people. After I finished my first MS degree, I decided to keep on going and started working toward a second MS degree in Environmental Education. I studied side by side with people who had a desire to really understand how our environment works. Though I decided to take a break from my studies to spend more time with my family, I still continue to read and learn more on my own. And I look forward to continuing my education someday.
Do you feel that you’re “climate literate”? Do you know the make up of the atmosphere, understand the greenhouse effect, know the difference between global warming and ozone depletion? Ten or even five years ago my answer would have been NO! The good news is that anybody can learn climate science. If you didn’t learn it in school, that doesn’t mean you’ll never become climate literate. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know!
5 Ways To Develop Climate Literacy
1. Identify what you don’t understand and develop questions to answer.
Since I’m a teacher, I plan every topic with a goal in mind and have some objectives. Are you wondering how climate change could impact your area? Do you know how they develop models that predict the impact of climate change? Have you seen the evidence for climate change? Or maybe, more basic things are what you’d like to learn: how exactly does carbon dioxide impact the greenhouse effect, and what does that mean for us? Write down your questions and start learning. But on the other hand, you don’t always need to have a specific question in mind. Your goal can just be to learn something new.
2. Find a reputable source of information.
Just like looking for medical information, I’d caution against trusting Dr. Google. Of course the internet is a wealth of information, but there are lots of sites that are not trustworthy. When it comes to educating yourself about climate change, pay attention to who is running websites that you visit. NASA’s site on Global Climate Change has great information, for example. If you come to a site run by a university, you can typically consider that to be a great source of information as well. If you want to learn science topics, you need to learn it from scientists, not from politicians or industries that may have ulterior motives. Visit your local library to find books and magazines if you’re looking for actual papers to hold in your hands. My husband, for example, hates to use the computer and doesn’t really like reading–except for his subscription to National Geographic, where he has learned so much about climate change (and lots of other topics) in a way that is enjoyable to him.
3. Make it fun!
You don’t have to just read. Why not visit your local aquarium, zoo or museum? Many have exhibits that deal with climate change in a fun, interactive way that’s both enjoyable and educational for you and your children. You can also check out local book stores and universities that host guest speakers for events that you may learn from. Wherever you go, bring along your inquisitive mind, speak up and ask questions.
4. Share what you have learned with your family and friends.
Now, I’m not saying you need to become a climate preacher. But why not involve your children in what you learn? Why not mention what you’ve learned to your spouse, siblings or parents? Why not share your enthusiasm with your friends? Chances are that they’ll appreciate hearing how you’ve learned and grown. They may even have questions themselves and enjoy discussing it with you.
5. Take action!
You can take steps to reduce your own carbon emissions, and you can make these a part of fun family activities. It’s great to make changes to our own lives, but it doesn’t have to stop there. There’s a good chance that once you become climate literate you will have concerns that you want to take to your representatives, so contact them. Attend a local event like those sponsored by Moms Clean Air Force or 350.org, and find ways to combat climate change on a larger level.
Photo: Abbie Walston