Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Improving Climate Literacy with Project-Based Modules Rich in Educational Rigor and Relevance

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Improving Climate Literacy with Project-Based Modules Rich in Educational Rigor and Relevance

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The scientific community generally recognizes with a high level of confidence that recent industrial and agricultural activities are having a profound impact on Earth's climate (IPCC, 2007, 2013b). Yet policy makers and the media frequently assert that climate science is highly uncertain (Oreskes, 2004), and surveys conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in 2012 found that only 45% of American adults are concerned or alarmed by climate changes; another 25% are cautious, indicating that they are likely to believe but are not certain that climate change is real; and many are uncertain about the cause and are unlikely to think that anything should be done to address the problem (Leiserowitz et al., 2013). American teens were found to have similar perceptions and understandings about climate change, with 54% believing that global warming is happening and only 46% understanding the link between global warming and emissions from cars and trucks (Leiserowitz et al., 2011). The overall findings reveal a general lack of climate change knowledge among both teens and adults; only 25% of the participating teens and 30% of the adults received a "passing" grade. Fewer than 20% of the teens surveyed said they are "very well informed" about the basics of how the climate system works or the different causes, consequences, and potential solutions to climate change, although 70% indicated that they would like to know more.

Survey research has also shown that those who are more knowledgeable about climate science are more concerned about addressing climate change (Leiserowitz et al., 2013). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and others have published a guide to climate literacy that defines attributes of a climate-literate individual (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2009). Drawing on evolving conceptions of scientific (Miller, 1983, 1998; AAAS, 1989,1993), technological (Pearson and Young, 2002), environmental (Hollweg et al., 2012), and energy (DeWaters and Powers, 2007, 2013; U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2012) literacy, climate science literacy includes a broad understanding of climate science, as well as affective (attitudes, values, and self-efficacy) and behavioral attributes related to climate change. Energy and climate literacy are integrally linked due to the predominant influence of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel combustion on our climate. Just as energy literacy can help people effectively adopt energy-saving behaviors and become more accepting of energy efficient or renewable technologies by overcoming barriers created by misconceptions and misunderstandings about energy use (Sovacool, 2009; Attari et al., 2010), improved climate science literacy empowers individuals with the scientific foundation and skills to make informed decisions and work effectively toward climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Education at the K-12 level is an important component for creating a climate-literate citizenry, since environmental and energy awareness and values are largely formulated during childhood (Stem, 2000; Zografakis et al., 2008). Until recently, climate change and the impact of human activities, such as fossil fuel combustion, on climate change have been largely omitted from state and national science education standards (NRC, 1996). Professional development for educators is largely inadequate, quality resources for the classroom are hard to find, and because of its highly polarized and politicized nature, educators may seek to frame climate science as different from other science subjects, sometimes avoiding the subject of climate change altogether or incorrectly portraying a "balanced controversy" among scientists who disagree about whether it is happening and whether human activities are the cause (Wise, 2010; AMS, 2013; McCaffrey et al., 2013). This situation is due to change. …

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