Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Linking Biophysical, Socioeconomic, and Political Effects of Climate Change on Agro-Ecosystems

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Linking Biophysical, Socioeconomic, and Political Effects of Climate Change on Agro-Ecosystems

Article excerpt


To effectively address global environmental crises and issues, citizens need to be able to make evidence-based decisions (Jordan et al., 2009; Pidgeon and Fischhoff, 2011). They also need to understand that social and natural systems are complex and that they intersect with one another. Orr (1989) argued that for students to recognize that they are a part of large ecosystems, instructors must help them explore how societal actions affect these systems. For example, human activity has resulted in increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere that have been theoretically and statistically linked to variances in global climate systems (IPCC, 2007a; National Research Council [NRC], 2010). Despite such evidence being publicly available, many students remain unaware of the basic fundamentals of climate science, especially with regard to the effect of human activity on climate change (Kahan et al., 2012). Kahan et al. (2012) reported that the viewpoint of the social group with which one associates and its social, political, and ethical beliefs are more important determinants of one's concern about climate change risks than one's level of scientific literacy. Hence, it has been concluded that discussion and consideration of different stakeholder viewpoints may be a more effective means of increasing concern about the effects of climate change than simple information transfer (Comer, 2012).

Undergraduate science instructors have the opportunity to help increase and promote climate science literacy. In fact, college may be the first opportunity for many students to explore the multidimensionality of climate change science. Many recent high school graduates, educated under the former National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996), have not formally learned about climate science during their K-12 education. In addition, undergraduate learning opportunities attract students who are either committed to or are exploring a particular field of study, bringing a diversity of perspectives to the classroom. In order to promote climate literacy, we need instructional strategies that are relevant and rigorous, engaging for both science and nonscience majors, and have accompanying assessment tools.

In this paper, we describe a cooperative jigsaw activity (modeled after Constible et al., 2007) for undergraduate students developed by our interdisciplinary team of researchers at Colorado State University. The activity was initially developed for an informal education symposium on climate change for the university community and was subsequently modified for formal undergraduate science classes. We describe the updated iteration of this activity. Our lesson was designed with three main learning objectives: to demonstrate that (1) there are multiple stakeholder perspectives that are relevant when making decisions regarding ecosystem management under a changing climate; (2) all citizens need relevant evidence to make informed decisions about mitigating and adapting to climate change; and (3) decisions and stakeholders vary across cultural and geographical contexts despite having overlapping concerns. Our curriculum addressed all seven of the climate literacy components (described below), although some were implicit, and others were explicit (U.S. Climate Change Science Program, 2009). We provided empirical evidence as examples of the types of data each stakeholder might find relevant to his/her perspective. To evaluate our curriculum materials, we analyzed students' preand postactivity written responses as they related to our learning objectives and recorded our observations regarding classroom discussions.

Climate Literacy

At a basic level, science literacy is defined in the national science education standards as having the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity (NRC, 1996; Achieve, 2013). …

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