Connection not Content

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Climate Change Education – Denial ain’t just a River in Egypt!

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“It is an astonishing fact about the current era that in the most powerful country in world history, with a high level of education and privilege, one of the two political parties virtually denies the well-established facts about anthropogenic climate change.” – Noam Chomsky

Formal education systems must take some of the blame of course and not only in the USA. Whatever the time scale, climate change is likely to necessitate drastic changes to human lifestyles for very survival. Some changes will undoubtedly be painful and impossible to achieve without civil unrest unless they are willingly accepted by entire populations and as a challenge rather than an unwelcome imposition by lawmakers. It’s cheaper to educate than imprison! Education has a big part to play in creating the necessary climate of opinion but whether formal or informal, the task of influencing so many people, at all stages in their lives and shades of political opinion, is not straightforward and will require different approaches at different levels of education.

  • Formal Education – Children and young adults will bear the brunt of the forthcoming climate crisis for obvious reasons. Every child should leave school with factually-correct and realistic ideas about climate change. Teachers have the difficult task of matching content and presentation to different age groups and this should include countryside trips and nature appreciation at all levels. Virtual Reality (VR) may prove to be useful, particularly in the face of limited resources for travel outside the classroom. Here’s an example:


    Open Education Resources (see OER below) are now widely available to teachers including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Some may be perfectly suitable for interested teenagers.

    The power of human connections – friendly engagement with climate change doubters.

  • Informal Education – It is easy to castigate people who either unthinkingly repudiate climate change, are confused or are simply too involved with their daily lives to bother much about it. Gentle persuasion is more likely to change their minds than confrontation. Ridicule, can actually reinforce denial. So discuss patiently, find common ground, employ humour, give clear examples of climate change in action – befriend. The carrot is preferable to the stick! You do not have to be an expert. Start by chatting about something straightforward and non-controversial, eg the difference between climate and day-to-day weather and then lead on seamlessly to more complex ideas. Never ‘talk down’ or be condescending. Openly acknowledge the limitations of your own knowledge and learn from theirs.

    A recent study suggested that personal stories can be a persuasive communication strategy. Sharing anecdotes about how the climate crisis is changing lives can persuade people to care.

  • Open Education – The advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in 2008 opened the door to free education for anyone with Internet access. The original ‘connectivist’ MOOCs have given way to commercial exploitation but it is still possible to freely audit and download substantial amounts of content provided assessment and certification is not required. MOOCs are often given by universities in partnership with suppliers such as Futurelearn, Coursera or edX. They are ideal for self-directed learners who can find and benefit from suitable courses by themselves and there is usually opportunity to meet and learn from other like-minded participants in online forums. An edX course given by SDG Academy, “Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact” is a good example of a relevant course.

    In general, Open Education Resources (OER) offer many opportunities for anyone, anywhere to educate themselves about Climate Change for little or no cost apart from Internet access. Open Textbooks and other OER are now widely available for free access – eg see the links provided by The Library and Learning Commons at Washtenaw Community College.

    Sometimes the stick! (Wikimedia Commons)

  • Brute Force Education – Although hard core climate change deniers are unlikely to change their ways any time soon, the stick rather than the carrot can be appropriate in this case. No violence please but forcefully tackling out-and-out deniers in no-holds-barred argument and well-aimed ridicule, is not just good spectator sport but can also attract and benefit undecided onlookers. The views of this type of denier may not be altered one jot but aggressive deniers can influence others with misinformation and should be confronted. Gerald Kutney on Twitter ( @GeraldKutney ) is very active in this role. He points out that, “Propaganda repeated again and again becomes the “truth” if not challenged, and silence is the enabler of propaganda.”

    As with all conspiracy theorists, the most difficult to tackle are ‘experts’ who can spend hours cherry-picking and manipulating reasonable facts to prop up their own fallacious arguments. Best to keep well away unless you have the necessary expertise and stamina to indulge! Some of the worst are religious fanatics. ‘God intended it as a disposable planet’ is a truly shocking example.

The importance of climate change education is barely recognised alongside its big brother, climate change itself. The pandemic has shown that vast resources can suddenly be found when the powers that be confront a widely accepted emergency situation. The climate emergency already faces an uphill struggle for general acceptance. Educating populations towards accepting the challenge is vitally important.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

November 18, 2020 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Climate Change, Mooc

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