Image Caption: The use of storytelling in education has long been known to improve social emotional learning, a particularly important aspect of climate change education for children. Image credit: Desiré Dazzy K-e-k-u-l-é from Pixabay
Script by: Ashley Carter | Audio by: Olivia Rounsaville | Blurb by: Jessalyn Fong
Climate Education for Youth
Climate education has the potential to drive the public towards climate science literacy, an individual’s understanding of their influence on climate and climate’s influence on them and society. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a climate-literate person:
- understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system,
- knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate,
- communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and
- is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.
Climate change education is more than just science education; it is an interdisciplinary topic that involves understanding the relationship between climate change, history, economics, social studies, and more. A robust and interdisciplinary climate education provides an understanding of the large-scale social transformation necessary to increase climate resiliency and implement effective solutions.
Empowering Future Solution Makers
Climate education can provide younger generations with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that are necessary to make more environmentally informed decisions. By equipping students with a thorough understanding of climate science and illuminating the scientific process utilized by climate scientists, students become armed to critically assess climate discourse and solutions. Moreover, climate education fosters a sense of agency: youth may grow up to vote for climate positive policies, pursue careers that strive towards climate solutions, have a more eco-conscious lifestyle, or facilitate constructive conversations with family members and friends. Implementing effective climate solutions relies on an informed public, and climate education provides youth with a starting point to act as agents of positive change amidst our planetary emergency.
Additionally, climate education can provide youth with the tools necessary to alleviate and cope with climate anxiety. A 2021 Lancet Study asked 10,000 young people between the ages of 16–25 in ten countries what they felt about climate change, and found that more than 50% of young people reported experiencing sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt. Effective climate education will not only help youth understand the causes and impacts of climate change, but it will also provide young people with insight on how they can contribute to solutions and exercise their own agency to make meaningful changes. Further, climate education can provide coping strategies by fostering hope and highlighting the collective efforts being made to address climate change.
Barriers to Effective Climate Education
According to an article from Science, data from 1500 public middle- and high-school science teachers from all 50 US states found that the median teacher devotes only one to two hours to climate change instruction. Climate confusion among U.S. teachers further contributes to this educational gap within American education, and limited training and scientific consensus among teachers leads to mixed messages. For example, the research published in Science found that of the teachers who teach climate change, “31% report sending explicitly contradictory messages, emphasizing both the scientific consensus that recent global warming is due to human activity and that many scientists believe recent increases in temperature are due to natural causes.” Progress in climate science and scientific consensus have outpaced teachers’ training. Additionally, teachers may face political threats and external pressures from parents or administration to avoid climate instruction.
Teachers’ lack of knowledge on climate science and exclusion of climate instruction is further compounded by variations in learning standards and requirements. Climate education within the US faces challenges due to the absence of consensus on the inclusion of climate change in educational curricula and the absence of national science standards on the subject. In 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were developed and recommended that human-made climate change be taught in all science classes beginning in fifth grade. However, these standards remain voluntary, and 44 states have used the NGSS or created standards based on them. Since 2007, The Campaign for Environmental Literacy has continued to organize stakeholders and push for passage of the Climate Change Education Act, leading to the subsequent efforts to reintroduce and pass the bill four times since then. Despite these efforts, federal grants to fund climate change education projects have been miniscule and initiatives in
Congress to support climate change education have been unsuccessful. New Jersey became a pioneer in climate education in 2020, becoming the first state to mandate the teaching of climate change beginning in kindergarten. Notably, New Jersey has taken an interdisciplinary approach to climate education as students are learning about climate change in ceramics and physical education classes.
Making Climate Change Education Accessible and Engaging for Youth
Outside of the traditional classroom setting, many environmental organizations, activists, content creators, and informal education institutions like museums or zoos provide opportunities for students to engage in climate education. Collectively, these actors play critical roles as environmental educators who bridge the educational gaps related to climate change and increase climate literacy amongst young people. In an era dominated by digital communication, media serves as a dynamic and influential tool in climate education initiatives. In a survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center, social media emerged as the third most frequently mentioned source of information on climate change amongst teenagers. Young people consume climate-related media through various social media platforms, like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Environmental educators understand that leveraging various forms of media allows them to create engaging, relatable, and inspiring climate education for today’s youth. While leveraging these platforms to educate youth and the wider public on climate change, storytelling remains a central element. Media-driven climate education empowers environmental educators to effectively break down barriers and make climate science more accessible, relatable, and inspiring for youth of all ages.
Who is Suzie Hicks?
Suzie Hicks is an award-winning filmmaker, author and television host specializing in environmental communication for kids of all ages. Suzie emphasizes the power of children’s media and learning communities, connecting youth advocates and educator allies. Their current project includes “Suzie Hicks the Climate Chick,” which started out as a college-produced Studio TV series, then transformed into a preschool teaching persona, a social media account, and now an award-winning children’s pilot. “Suzie Hicks the Climate Chick” aims to educate everyone about the local impacts and solutions of climate change through puppetry, comedy, and music.
- Suzie Hicks Website
- United Nations, Education is key to addressing climate change
- NOAA, What is Climate Science Literacy?
- Hickman et al., Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey (The Lancet, 2021)
- Plutzer et al., Climate Confusion Among U.S. Teachers (Science, 2016)
- Renee Cho, Climate Education in the U.S.: Where It Stands, and Why It Matters (Columbia Climate School, 2023)
- Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
- Seyma Bayram, New Jersey requires climate change education. A year in, here’s how it’s going (NPR, 2023).
- Arianna Prothero, Most Teens Learn About Climate Change From Social Media. Why Schools Should Care (EdWeek, 2023)
- Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director of Global Oneness Project, Immersive Storytelling and Climate Change: Fostering the Development of Social-Emotional Learning (UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development)
Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break. Climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal: improving climate education for kids. Suzie Hicks is an award-winning filmmaker, author and television host specializing in environmental communication for kids of all ages. She explains why it matters.
Suzie: Kids are experiencing climate change right now. It’s not happening in the future. It’s up to us to create a welcoming committee to them to say here’s what’s going on, and here’s what we can do about it. | There needs to be a healthy intervention point for kids to be introduced to the concept of climate change and also introduced to the world of climate solutions.
Ethan: She believes climate education needs to avoid being boring to be impactful.
Suzie: The ways that I create engaging climate education are to make it relatable, to have fun, to make it solutions oriented, and to highlight creativity. | I approach all of my climate education and media through things that kids can relate to.
Ethan: As an example of her educational content, she created a television show called Susie Hicks, the Climate Chick.
Suzie: Our job as educators is to teach kids how to operate in a climate changed world to build a future that’s sustainable. So we’re showing them real life models that look like them, that act like them, that are in the place that they’re growing up in, and are doing something about climate change.
Ethan: She hopes her education work will lead to real climate action in the long term.
Suzie: I really hope that, you know, in 10 years if a, a student is faced with a choice to make a climate friendly decision that can impact a lot of people that they’ll make because they were introduced to it by me.
Ethan: To learn more about environmental education and Suzie’s Hicks work, visit climatebreak.org.