Education: the best climate change tool
A whopping majority of we Canadians believe that climate change is real, despite the fact that we are not well educated about the topic.
That’s the conclusion I draw from a new study published this fall by Lakehead University Orillia. The study has a local connection; its principal researcher is Dr. Ellen Field, a post-doctoral fellow and teacher at the university in Orillia, and the niece of well-known Haliburton resident Sharon Lawrence.
The nationwide study of 3,000-plus Canadians found that 85 per cent believe climate change is really happening. However, there’s a huge gap between what we think we know about climate change, and what we really do know.
While 51 per cent of those surveyed felt well-informed about climate change, 43 per cent failed a climate change knowledge test, answering four or fewer of 10 knowledge questions correctly.
Those figures confirm what I suspect about people’s knowledge of other subjects. We have opinions on everything, but few of our opinions are based on knowledge that is factual and deep.
That’s because many of us get our information from television, word of mouth and social media. We used to get much of it from print newspapers and magazines, which had the resources and staff to provide more lengthy and comprehensive reporting but have been pushed aside by digital culture.
Television news is a good thing, but it provides only summary information because of time limits. Nothing deep. Nothing comprehensive.
News from friends and relatives usually is some fact mixed with gossip. Much of what we hear from other people comes from social media, where too many people dump whatever is floating loose and unorganized in their heads.
Climate change is a critical factor in our future. We all must become properly educated about the issues so we can make decisions based on facts.
The survey found that roughly two-thirds of Canadians, and an even higher percentage of educators, feel that the education system should be doing more to educate youth about climate change.
“Students, parents and teachers agreed that schools should be doing more to educate young people about climate change and that climate change education is the responsibility of the school system,” Dr. Field says.
Only 35 per cent of teachers surveyed reported teaching about climate change. And, students who did get some instruction on the subject experienced only one to 10 hours instruction a year or semester.
“There is variation in teachers’ level of preparedness when it comes to teaching about climate change,” says Pamela Schwartzberg, president of Learning for a Sustainable Future, the non-profit organization that was a partner in the study.
The survey also was put to students 12 to 18 and found that 46 per cent of them are aware that climate change is occurring. However, they do not believe that human efforts will be effective against it.
I take that to mean that many students feel nothing can be done so we should just carry on until we all burn to a crisp or are floated away by rising sea levels.
The Lakehead study was released just after 11,000 scientists from 150-plus countries declared a “climate emergency,” predicting “untold human suffering” if more is not done to stop human contribution to climate change. The declaration noted that the world population is increasing by 80 million a year, more than 200,000 a day.
The Lakehead study makes a number of recommendations for providing more climate change education in school systems. It calls on education ministries to put out policy statements to guide climate change education and to begin embedding climate change in curricula.
What the study indicates, but does not shout out, is that Canada is far behind in climate change thinking and education.
The federal government jacks up gasoline taxes and hopes climate problems will disappear. Some provinces object and the fighting begins.
Our politicians need to get fully focused on this issue and understand that education is a key force in the fight against climate change.
Australia has been at the forefront of education for sustainability for almost two decades now. It’s time for Canada to start catching up.
We have become a country of talkers when we need to be a country of doers.