Educating future generations on climate change is one of the most important steps in combatting the climate crisis. Here’s how your institution can do so.
In 2020, the coronavirus crisis has demanded the full attention of politicians, economists, health care professionals, the wider scientific community, and the general population.
A vast amount of funding, time, and energy has been directed towards managing the impacts of the pandemic and preventing further disruption.
While this is necessary, it has arguably taken a degree of focus away from another pressing issue facing the global population: climate change.
However, with vaccines on the horizon and a greater understanding of the coronavirus, the world may return to some level of normalcy in late 2021.
With this in mind, the sense of urgency surrounding climate change must return, so that work on reducing the damage that has been inflicted on the planet can continue.
An important step in reversing climate change is increasing climate literacy among younger generations.
Younger generations will be responsible for the development of climate change solutions in the future, taking on decision-making roles that will have a significant impact on the issue.
As well as educating students, making sure to incorporate the subject into all fields of academia, higher education institutions can help inspire young adults to enter related careers.
As explained by UNESCO, increasing climate change literacy among young adults can also encourage “changes in their attitudes and behavior, and helps them adapt to climate change related trends.”
The immediate effect of increasing climate change literacy can be seen in behavior trends among young people, including the boycott of fast fashion, the rise in veganism, and the increase in demand for sustainable consumerism.
As well as being a force for change, future generations will also be those most impacted by climate change and will therefore need to know what to expect and how to adapt.
According to the 2020 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report, future generations will experience extreme weather events and increased air pollution, as well as the potential spread of infectious diseases, malnutrition, and rising food prices.
While the advancement of climate change solutions will aim to reduce these effects, future generations will still be faced with these issues to varying degrees.
A submission to the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education details the extent of understanding university students have about climate change, as well as common attitudes towards the issue.
The results were generally positive, with “a strong majority of respondents believe that climate change is real and largely human-induced” and “a majority express concern about climate change.”
However, the study also revealed that “students in the sample hold misconceptions about the basic causes and consequences of climate change.”
It’s clear that, while there is a basic understanding about climate change and its effects, students can still benefit from further education on the subject.
There are a number of methods for increasing climate change literacy among your students.
Hosting focused degree programs, in which content is entirely focused on climate change itself, is the most direct route towards educating your students.
In the UK, the University of Warwick’s Global Sustainable Development program explores “the impact of development, the possibilities for a sustainable life, and the complex moral and ethical debates around globalization.”
Conducting climate change research at your institution is another way of encouraging students to understand the issue in more depth and inspiring them with the groundbreaking work being done in the field.
The University of Leeds is currently conducting research that is “shaping policy and developing scientific interventions to help humanity adapt and respond to climate change and its pressing global challenges.”
Finally, it’s important to make the protection of the environment a key priority at your institution, so that students adopt environmentally friendly habits that they will continue to have long after their time at university is complete.
In Canada, Simon Fraser University is seen as one of the most environmentally conscious universities in the world.
The university incorporates sustainability into every aspect of university life and considers itself “an institutional leader in pursuing ecological, social and economic sustainability through its operations, research, academics, campus and community engagement.”
For more information on this topic, check out Episode nine of the QS ‘In Conversation’ podcast. We discuss ‘The Campus Green’ with Ailsa Lamont, Co-Founder, CANIE: Climate Action Network for International Educators.