Our climate on Earth has been subject to significant change throughout history. As per recent NASA statements, just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. It turns out that most of these climate changes refer to extremely small variations in Earth’s orbit that alter the amount of solar energy the Earth obtains.
Climate change is indeed occurring, and as per The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is certainly due to human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at an unprecedented rate over decades to millennia. For centuries atmospheric carbon dioxide has never reached today’s life threatening levels. With the current global temperature rise, shrinking ice sheets, warming oceans, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, declining Arctic sea ice and ocean acidification, the evidence for rapid climate change is more than compelling.
Could we resolve the issue through education?
The reasons why specific attention should be paid to the need for education and the possibilities it presents cannot be reduced to just one. To begin with, addressing climate change through education will demand action at all levels of society starting from individuals themselves, and shifting to smaller and larger businesses, organisations, institutions, national governments and would hopefully lead to a practical shift in the operations of international bodies. Climate change cannot be addressed and acted upon solely by certain individuals with privileged access to information. Instead, transfer of knowledge is necessary both intellectually and affectively, to decision-makers and their ultimate constituents at all levels possible. Second, enforcing the issue within education is required because, when it comes to climate change, learning from experience is learning too late.
The photo above belongs to a personal archive and is part of an expedition performed by Sea Legacy during which both healthy and starving bears were encountered. However, as climate change accelerates, we will see less of the former, and more of the latter. That is why treating the issue as a matter of urgency is vital, and progress should be drawn adhering to the bottom-up model where education is used as a stepping stone for societal change.
Education is the only sector capable of enabling society to benefit from climate change science by transferring scientific knowledge across societal sectors. The centrality education has in various processes can precipitate social change and climate change mitigation. What is more, effective climate change education brings about growth in the number of informed and engaged citizens, building social will or even pressure to shape policy, and often creating a workforce for a low-carbon economy. The Oxford Research Encyclopedia had reported various instances where climate change education efforts met success and delivered progress in climate and energy knowledge, influence and motivation.
The delay between decisions that induce climate change and their full societal influence could range from decades to millennia (Ledley et all, 2017). Subsequently, learning from education, rather than experience, is vital in order for those impacts to be avoided.
Author: Bilyana Hadzhikyanova
- Kunkel, K. et al, (2013) “Probable maximum precipitation and climate change,” Geophysical Research Letters
- Ledley, S. T. , Rooney-Vagra, J. and Niepold, F. (2017) Addressing Climate Change Through Education
- L. Polyak, et.al., (2009) “History of Sea Ice in the Arctic,” in Past Climate Variability and Change in the Arctic and at High Latitudes, U.S. Geological Survey, Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 1.2, chapter 7
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), (2018) Global Climate Change, Vital Signs of the Planet
- National Research Council (NRC), (2006) Surface Temperature Reconstructions For the Last 2,000 Years. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.