Strategies for Developing the College Course on Global Climate Change

Article excerpt

This paper suggests an outline for a model text and approach to climate change education through the framework of international cooperation. Educators have not been successful in getting students to apply environmental knowledge to their own lives and cross-curriculum environmental connections have been weak. The administration of the United States has not shown strong environmental leadership but this is partly due to a weak civil society that has failed to put pressure on the government. Media bias on climate change must be countered with scientific knowledge. Higher education holds a key role and responsibility in educating Americans on climate change and should be instrumental in getting American society on an environmentally sustainable path.

As the concerns about global climate change mount, we have to ask whether higher education in the United States is up to the task of enhancing literacy on this subject. In the United States, climate change education is but one of the many smaller fronts in a larger more sophisticated battle over culture, foreign policies, and the environment. At the onset of the 2004-2005 academic year, the author taught a geography course at the University of Maryland, Asian Division, listed as Causes and Implications of Global Change. The very idea of teaching a climate change course to undergraduates would have seemed unconventional to him twelve years ago, but times have changed and, not coincidentally, so has the climate. In this paper, the author presents an analysis of his teaching experiences in the classroom and offers practical ways to teach the topic holistically. He suggests an outline of a model text and course and approach to climate change education through the framework of international cooperation.

The Kyoto Accord as Viewed through American Foreign Policies

The world has 6.4 billion people and this demographic phenomenon impacts all aspects of our lives, whether it be environment, disease, war, economy, labor, immigration, or the acquisition of natural resources, among others. An uncomfortable fact for Americans is that of these 6.4 billion people, approximately 5% (the people of the United States) is utilizing 30% of the world's natural resources and producing 30% of the world's waste. (Ranking the rich, 2003; 2004). Clearly, with respect to our greenhouse gases and our resource needs, we should be maintaining some sort of humble dialogue with other nations. But the current nationalistic policies of our government are hardly effective in solving real world environmental problems mainly because these policies prevent honest discussions from taking place (i.e. family planning, fossil fuel consumption in America, CO2 as a greenhouse gas, dialogue with environmental groups).

In American society today there is another rift that manifests itself within its citizenry who have scientific knowledge of climate change but lack democratic power to push their elected leaders to act either nationally or internationally. Ehrlich (2002) notes that enlightened political leadership can play a key role in changing a non-sustainable cultural mindset. Nonetheless, Uhl, Kulakowski, Gerwing, Brown, & Cochrane (1996) suggest that governments typically will only act if they are pressured by an educated and responsive civil society.

Environmental leadership (or lack thereof) does not necessarily reflect a shortage of understanding or concern about climate change. In a survey conducted by Chicago Council of Foreign Relations (Gonzalez Gonzalez, 2004, p. 45), 71% of the American public supports the United State's participation in the Kyoto agreement, as do 72% of the leaders. Clearly, American opinion suggests some degree of understanding on the need to mediate man-made impacts on global climate change. The societal disconnect mentioned above, is readily seen with blatant inaction by the federal administration in the face of popular opinion. The United States pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change in 2001. …