The Task at Hand
The Earth’s climate is warming at an unprecedented rate as a result of human activity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report states that “human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in [human] history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems” (IPCC, 2014, p. 2). Mitigating, adapting to, and living through present and future climate realities requires reorienting human relationships with the natural world. This is fundamentally an educational project (Henderson & Drewes, 2020). However, the educational response to climate change is nascent and highly uneven, with a patchwork of responses leading to differing levels of uptake (Plutzer et al., 2016). Our goal is to develop scholarly capacity, research coordination, and lines of inquiry to advance climate change education research, including applications for both policy and practice.
An Emerging Field of Inquiry
The field of climate change education research is rapidly expanding, and recent reviews of the literature (e.g., Monroe et al., 2019; Henderson et al., 2017) show a diverse field cutting across disciplinary and contextual boundaries, reflecting the complex realities of both climate change and education. This small but growing field of scholarship tends of focus scholarly attention on “formal” educational institutions, reflecting dominant traditions in educational research (Bell et al., 2009). Such work has shown that many pre-service and practicing K-12 teachers lack the content knowledge and experience necessary to teach about climate change, thus increasing the likelihood of avoiding such topics (Drewes, Henderson, & Mouza, 2017). Further, when teachers do teach climate change, they often do so in such a way that lacks personal relevance for students (Busch, 2016). Improving teacher candidates’ knowledge of climate change thus is recommended, including across the disciplines (Hestness, McGinnis, Riedinger & Marbach-Ad, 2011). But here again models are either nonexistent or emergent, with few examples of best practice despite some quality programs such as the Teacher Friendly Guide to Teaching Climate Change (Zabel, Ross, & Duggan-Haas, 2017). Higher education, informal education, and community-based contexts are even less researched, with emergent research showing limited institutional responses depending on sociocultural and political norms (Henderson, Bieler, & McKenzie, 2017), although quality climate change education is happening across diverse community contexts (Bowers, Monroe, & Adams, 2016). While much of this scholarly work has occurred in science education, it is conceptually limited and other areas need to address this issue (Busch, Henderson, & Stevenson, 2018).
Advancing Climate Change Education Research
A key conceptual goal of this project is to examine how climate change education research – in all its varied forms and contexts – can lead to human and ecological flourishing during a time of intense climate disruption. We hope to synthesize the rapidly emerging literature on climate change education to better coordinate research efforts in the future, including the need to address conceptual and contextual gaps in the literature. While this particular scholarly project and community foregrounds climate change education research, we are committed to research that informs both policy and practice, and vice versa. Toward that end, we envision the creation of collaborative products that utilize the best climate change education research to rapidly advance climate change education in a diversity of policy and practice environments. We envision something like these recent publications from AAA and ASA, but for the field of educational research, broadly defined. We argue, following Kwauk (2020), that the educational community needs to rapidly scale climate change education programs as a critical step in adapting to the realities of climate change.