Why Students Need Climate Literacy


SEATTLE — With generations of future youth set to inherit a quickly escalating climate change crisis, the population’s need for some baseline of climate literacy is growing fast and furiously.

Climate literacy is defined by the Climate Literacy Network as the “… understanding of your influence on the climate and the climate’s influence on you and society.”

Implicit in that definition is a depth of meaning that extends beyond factual knowledge and proficiency.

Being climate literate requires recognizing and grasping the role played by individual and collective human activity in shaping climate disturbances, a fact of the matter that can be slighted or underplayed in conventional approaches in teaching climate science.

In the U.S., increasing acknowledgment of the need for climate literate students has manifested a variety of initiatives and programs that can potentially light the way for potential emulations around the world.

Current efforts are wide-ranging in scope and method, but all mobilize human and material resources in the name of educator involvement and youth engagement. Technology often plays a critical role, in addition to public gatherings and cross-sector partnerships.

Once such example is the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), an award-winning, multimedia climate literacy platform that has reached more than 2 million students since 2009.

ACE’s strategic playbook revolves around empowering today’s youth, a target that has spawned years of one-shot awareness events and many long-running programs.

One initiative that perhaps encompasses both intervals of duration is the ACE Assembly, a live presentation for high schoolers that takes climate literacy principles and from them fashions an interactive, highly personal narrative.

Self-described as fusing the facts of climate change with pop-culture performance and charm, the presentation travels from school to school to spread awareness and build a sense of optimism. It spreads a message that tells students reality like it is, but it also encourages them to do something about it.

Surveys taken off the ACE Assembly’s effectiveness show that 60 percent of participating students had a greater desire to motivate friends and family to take action against climate change. That’s more than double pre-Assembly figures.

Schools that are unable to host an ACE Assembly have the option of staging their own variation with “Our Climate Our Future,” an online experience that can be assembled by educators at their will.

Another resource-centric climate literacy initiative is the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), or the CLEAN Project.

Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the CLEAN Project has created frameworks of both climate and energy literacy frameworks that cohere a large body of activities, projects, visual tools and demonstrations that can be deployed in scenarios of formal and informal education.

Like ACE, the CLEAN Project connects educators and their students with materials that teach climate literacy in a way that’s enthusiastic and down-to-earth in equal measure.

Federal efforts, too, are in progress, taking the form most explicitly in the final years of the Obama administration with the aptly named Climate Literacy Initiative.

Launched to coincide with COP21 in 2014 and invested in formalizing professional training in climate literacy across the U.S., the Initiative has affected tens of thousands of students to date and will likely continue to do so even as the current President transitions out.

Climate literacy isn’t a matter of education alone. When instructed in a way that’s digestible and felt firsthand, it inspires students to envision solutions for the future that, in only a matter of years, will be theirs.

Josephine Gurch

Photo: Flickr


About Author

Jo Gurch

Jo writes for The Borgen Project from Lagos, Nigeria. She grew up in Houston, but has never been to the rodeo.

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