The Urgent Need for Climate Education

Published on 28 March 2022

An RNA virus has disrupted the world and has brought economies to a halt.  Simultaneously, the world is hit by extreme weather events and geopolitical crises.  Our continued reliance on fossil fuels is putting the world “on life support” and “in intensive care” according to the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres.  His starkest warning is that time is running out to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius, the aspirational goal of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, and that our world is  “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.”

Climate change is a real and existential threat.  

By 2030, the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be reduced by 45 percent and carbon neutrality achieved by 2050, if the world is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The COP26 Summit in Glasgow in December 2021 brought about positive developments with some nations agreeing to cut GHG emissions, stop deforestation and provide financial assistance.  But it was found that in 2021 alone, the coal emissions surged to record highs and global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions grew by 6 percent to their highest levels in history.  According to climatologists, eastern Antarctica has recorded an exceptionally high temperature.  It was -11 degrees Celsius in early March 2022 when compared to -13 degrees Celsius in 2016 and -27 degrees Celsius in March 2013.  Antarctica’s sea ice is below two million square kilometers for the first time since 1979, and the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre has found that both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents have remained below average all year.

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Transformational changes are needed in major areas such as food, energy, transportation, politics and society.  But decades of discussions on human-induced warming have not convinced all the major nations of the world to act with immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The climate scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have provided solutions, but the key impediments to limiting temperature rise are missing global cooperation, increase in resource-intensive consumption and lack of governance in energy and land transformation.

Russia and Ukraine, nations currently at war, are key suppliers of metals for green technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries.  The energy-transition metals include copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, aluminum and lithium.  Ukraine is the largest supplier of noble gases like neon and krypton, used in semiconductor chips and are critical components of all electrical systems, automobiles and renewable machinery.  Instead of depending on Eastern Europe and Russia, there is a need to diversify global supplies or better still, reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and better manage domestic energy demands.

Climate Change Ethics

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According to Donald A. Brown, author of Climate Change Ethics: Navigating the Perfect Moral Storm, ethics is the crucial element that is missing in the debate about the enormous threat of climate change.  Many nations refuse to participate due to perceived inequities in the proposed international solutions.  For instance, during the coronavirus pandemic, vaccine nationalism was prevalent and the world was divided on vaccine trade and production.  High-income nations that grew rich on fossil fuels, and historically responsible for climate change, some since colonial times, need to provide financial assistance to low-income nations to deal with this burgeoning climate crisis.  Countries need to decarbonize their economies urgently to meet the demands of the climate emergency.

Threats to Younger Generation

Under continued global warming, extreme events like heat waves, drought, crop failure, river floods, wildfires and tropical cyclones will rise in frequency, intensity, and duration over the next decades.  As a result, the younger generation will feel the devastating impacts of climate change more than the older generation.  Children born in 2020 will experience a two- to seven-fold increase in extreme events, particularly heat waves, compared with people born in 1960, under current climate policy pledges.  There is a severe threat to the safety of children and hence, drastic emission reductions are mandatory to safeguard their future.  Young climate activists state that it is their generation (Generation Z) that has to face the onslaught of this climate breakdown and squarely place the blame on the older generation in charge for lacking the will to bring about change.

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The Urgent Need for Climate Change Education

On 5 November 2019, Italian Education Minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, introduced climate change and sustainability in Italy’s school curriculum to educate students of all ages about the world’s current climate emergency and how to solve it through sustainability.  The lessons on environmental education are integrated into traditional subjects, such as geography, mathematics, physics and civics, and taught from the perspective of sustainable development.  The students of ages 6 to 19 learn about ocean pollution, sustainable living and renewable resources, one hour every week and be exposed to 33 hours of climate change education.

According to research, climate change adaptation through education may not be cost-effective, quick and scalable, but it is very critical to building long-term adaptive capacity and climate resilience.  Sustainable lifestyle and behavioral changes needed to achieve it can be easily inculcated from childhood.  Some of the most ancient yet living languages in the world re-instate these ideas.  A Tamil proverb states Ainthil Vazhaiyaathathu Aimbathil Vazhaiyuma, which means “if you cannot bend or be flexible at age 5, it will become very difficult to bend or be flexible at age 50.”  A Chichewa proverb M’mera mpoyamba means “to catch them while young.”  Such ancestral wisdom emphasizes the importance of a child’s formative years and how whatever happens at this early stage has a bearing in later years.

Education, information, community approaches and public acceptability can accelerate the behavioral changes needed to implement policies and measures to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, emission reductions, as well as, adapt to consequences.  Climate and sustainable development policies can converge through education.

Education will help scale up climate action and adaptation from a grassroots level. It is the best way to learn that there is a deep-rooted connection between people and the rest of the living world everywhere.

Further Reading

Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency (5 November 2019)

Climate Literacy in the News (earthday.org)

Last Updated on 22 April 2022

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