A Look at Climate Education Across the US
Updated: Aug 8
Diverse scales and perspectives are always useful when considering solutions to complex problems. So because GenGreen’s mission is tailored around rethinking and rebuilding climate education, it is helpful to take a broader look at what climate education looks like on various scales and in different environments. Particularly, looking at climate education on a national scale is extremely important considering how much America contributes to the global climate crisis, and how crucial America has to be in the future solutions and efforts to come.
To start, the fact that we are in a complete, existential and catastrophic climate crisis must be stated. Our science has concluded long ago that we are in big trouble, and that we must act with great speed and boldness. Unfortunately, our systems of education in this country have not followed along with the simple science the way they should have. Many of our governments and politicians have willfully ignored, or purposely spun these truths and their place in education for their selfish and monied interests. So the story of climate education on our national scale is unfortunately one of lacking, but hopefully and potentially, also one of great promise.
According to the National Center for Science Education as of January of 2020, the breakdown of states and their recognition of climate change science in their curriculum is as follows. Currently 36 states have a general curriculum that recognizes anthropogenic climate change (human responsibility). These states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
That recognition should be taken with a giant grain of salt though, as each state’s curriculum greatly varies in its standards and extent of execution. So this simple recognition cannot be counted upon solely in good faith to be carried through at full, or even partial extent at this point in time. Even here in Montgomery County, I personally remember back just when I was in 8th grade in 2017, climate change was presented as a debate by my science teacher. Two “sides” were shown, which is utterly disgraceful and was extremely surprising to me, even as an eighth grader.
Next, the study details that there are five states that merely mention human responsibility for climate change as a possible factor. These being Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Virginia. A shameful failure to recognize real science to say the least. Purely unacceptable.
Even worse, the study also lists four states who do not even mention human responsibility as a possible factor. These being Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Once again, how do you not mention something that a consensus of scientists agree on across the world? It is shocking and appalling to even fathom. Once again unacceptable and fearfully problematic.
Finally, and on another depressing note, there are five states who misrepresent anthropogenic climate change as scientifically controversial. These states are Mississippi, West Virginia, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. Even knowing the type of bold faced and disgusting resistance to the facts, justice, and truths that surround the climate movement in this country, it is still hard to accept that any state could possibly take a position anywhere close to this. Have you no shame? Have you no scientists?
Briefly, without getting too much into deeper trends and politics, it is not hard to see where the money and corruption lies in these state breakdowns. Additionally, it’s not hard to see the red and blue pattern that follows either the trail of science, or the trail of incompetence, greed, and denial. The irresponsible position many states have taken on is morally indefensible, politically vile, and inexcusably incompetent. These states are considerably endangering the future of America and the world.
Although, to look at this picture of America’s climate education, we also need to consider how the larger system of education works throughout all matters. Basically all of the final decisions are left up to individual states, and then often even further delegated down to counties, districts, and of course many times schools and teachers. So even though some states have present education standards or goals about teaching anthropogenic climate change in their curriculum, executing climate education at a professional and consistent level all comes down to the individual schools, departments and teachers choices and actions.
This is not to say there are not ample and easy options to have more standardized and high quality climate education across the nation. It is very possible. To start, simply removing the corruption and politicization of education from our curriculums will immediately kill any non-scientific theories taught in what should be purely scientific classes. This seems simple enough, but in our current system it is very difficult. The simple fact is that this is not controversial, and if a district, school, or even teacher thinks it is, they should probably not be in a position as an educator or authority. That said, once schools actually move to teach the scientifically true and educationally necessary reality of climate change, there are many predetermined curriculum and lay outs made available across the nation.
Even back in 2013 many states moved to establish the Next Generation Science Standards to create some unity on a scientifically unified issue. Climate curriculum has only evolved since then and there are so many options for schools to adopt. Quick google searches reveal curriculum packages offered from sources ranging everywhere from the National Center for Science Education to Stanford Earth’s website. Education resources, activities, and lesson plans are more than plentiful on the internet and offer schools seamless paths to teaching climate change how they should. Curriculums are always changing, and this change is long overdue and scarily needed.
Recently though, a rare hopeful climate education headline came out of Italy. In November 2019, the Italian government announced it would be the first country to establish a mandatory course in all public schools on climate change and sustainable development. While this accomplishment is way overdue, it is still a big accomplishment. The US must cheer Italy on, look to hold them accountable for building their generation of climate leaders and heroes, and also seek to emulate them here at home, moving forwards quickly with its own climate education. And while the US’s federal government structure may prevent it from taking a route similar to Italy’s national decision, it is still imperative that the US moves towards full and unified climate education.
So yes, this issue is depressing and disheartening, but with despair comes promise. Youth across the nation will have to emerge as the climate leaders of the future if we are to survive this crisis, and to do this we must empower students where most of their scientific education forms. Education is empowerment, making climate education the foundation to survival.
There is a certain humor now in the common trope of students that always say they can’t use the stuff they learn in school in real life, but now, for better or for worse, we will need them to. So for all the students across the world right now, at all ages and levels, while you still may not know how to do your taxes or how to change a tire, your climate education will have to be put to good use.