Half-Told Stories of Climate Change: School Geography and (Un)sustainable Development

By Bagoly-Simó, Péter | Geography, Autumn 2013 | Go to article overview

Half-Told Stories of Climate Change: School Geography and (Un)sustainable Development


Bagoly-Simó, Péter, Geography


Introduction

Climate change has never been so central in public, scientific, educational and economic discourse as it is presently. One outcome of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Agenda 21, clearly emphasised the importance of global action regarding climate change. In supporting this statement, the United Nations explicitly stressed the significance of climate change within the framework of what it termed 'the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development' for the years 2005-14. Consequently, a wide range of requirements and educational objectives have been formulated in order to support education about climate change.

For geographers, however, climate hardly represents a novelty. School geography has been developing core knowledge and geographical skills over the last decades by addressing climate change issues in the classroom. In recent years, however, the sustainability debate has added yet another significant cross-curricular dimension to this topic: education for sustainable development (ESD). Although geography educators from around the world have agreed on a shared set of common purposes for their subject, ESD in the Lucerne Declaration (Haubrich et a/., 2007), the implementation has taken different forms in different educational settings in different countries. Therefore, this article aims to map the (dual) representation of climate change - as a geographical core topic and as a decisive teaching and learning objective in ESD - in geography curricula and textbooks in selected countries 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit.

Climate change and geography ESD

Research on climate change as a key topic and skill in geography education has encompassed the curricular frameworks, the media (e.g. textbooks) and the different players within the teachinglearning process. While the former has kept a focus on implementation into curricula (Dalelo, 2011; Westaway, 2009) and textbooks (BagolySimó, 2012; Hopkin, 2001), the latter has focused attention on students' conceptual understanding of climate change (elements) and ways of conceptual change (see e.g. Reinfried eia/., 2012), university students' opinion on actions designed to help prevent climate change (Ambusaidi et al., 2012) and their knowledge of global climate change (Spellman et al., 2003) as well as looking at (non-) Western perspectives on environmental change (Jonsson et al., 2012).

In this context, statements such as 'geography could claim ESD [as its own]' (McKeown and Hopkins, 2007, p. 18) clearly illustrate the subject's affinity with the concept of sustainable development. In fact, geographers have discussed their 'discipline's contribution to educating for a more sustainable future' (McKeown and Hopkins, 2007, p. 21) and, in comparing it to that of other traditional core subjects, find that school geography indeed addresses most of the topics inherent to ESD (Bagoly-Simó, 2013). According to geography educators, sustainable development generally rests on the principles of the global Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Earth Summit (held in 2002). However, the Lucerne Declaration on Geographical Education for Sustainable Development, with its conceptual framing of sustainable development within the 'human-Earth ecosystem' (Haubrich et al., 2007, p. 243), now represents the specific fingerprint of geography within the framework of ESD.

This conceptualisation represents just one of the countless definitions of sustainable development. In 1996, just four years after the Rio Earth Summit, Dobson counted over 300 definitions of sustainable development. At the same time, the proliferation of myriad conceptualisations led to a wide range of meta-analytical works examining the theoretical constructs of sustainable development. For example, the analytical model proposed by Tremmel (2003) which connects the three poles of sustainable development with aspects of intra- and inter-generational equity and justice (Figure 1). Within the educational context, geography as a school subject has been building strong ties with environmental education (Tilbury, 1997) and, progressively, with education about sustainability, for sustainability and as sustainability (Sterling, 2001). …

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