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The Role of Education in Climate Change Risk Management

We need a “multi-faceted approach for educating the children and adults vulnerable to climate change […] to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change,” according to Dr. Leslie A. North, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Geology at the Western Kentucky University , and Mr. Kianoosh Ebrahimi, Center for Water Resource Studies, Western Kentucky University in an  exclusive guest post to Caribbean Climate.

Credit: The 5Cs

Credit: The 5Cs

Communities of scientists acknowledge that global climate change is happening, and is predominantly the result of human activities (IPCC, 2014). Yet, despite the wealth of information about the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change, there are many persons still skeptical about the importance of understanding and responding to climate change risk. There are equally as many people simply unaware of how to minimize the impacts of climate change (Alejandro et al., 2012). Generally speaking, as climate change is typically perceived as remote and distant both in terms of time and location, members of the general public often avoid understanding climate change or concerning themselves with how their behavior influences this phenomenon. Existing knowledge, former experiences and perceptions about climate change also often result in hesitation in adopting behavioral change towards mitigating climate change risks. To combat these influences on a persons’ understanding of climate change science or willingness to take action to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change, a multi-faceted approach for educating the children and adults vulnerable to climate change is needed.

            Since climate change involves vast spans of time and space, it is a very complex concept to both teach and understand. Moreover, time is of the essence when it comes to responding to climate change challenges, which makes efficiently and effectively educating about the phenomenon of paramount importance. To educate about climate change in a timely manner and spur attitude and behavior changes about any subject, educators should build upon a persons’ pre-existing knowledge base and relate concepts being taught to personal, tangible experiences a learner is able to see directly in his or her environment. For instance, in the Caribbean region, an educator may teach about climate change by focusing on sea-level rise risk. Sea-level rise threatens many things including the tourism industry of the Caribbean region. According to Painter (2009) “…a one-meter rise would flood an area in coastal Guyana where 70% of the population and 40% of agricultural land is located. That would imply a major reorganization of the country’s economy.” Since nearly 50% of the population of the Caribbean lives within 2km (1.2 miles) of the coast, relating the importance of understanding climate change science and reducing climate change impacts through the visible and tangible concept of sea-level rise is evident. Many residents of the region can easily relate to the tourism industry and/or have already noted changes in sea-level rise, possibly without even knowing why the change in sea-level and shoreline occurred. Thus, the sea-level rise topic allows a learner to have a personal connection with the concept being taught and an educator can pull upon existing experiences with the sea-level to teach about broader issues such as climate change science and risk management.

            Although, teaching about climate change is a big challenge for many teachers, Caribbean grade-school teachers and community members must continue to work together to find exciting and interactive ways for students to learn about the science and solutions of climate change in the region. Informal learning institutions (i.e., zoos and aquariums, workshops, communication through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.), along with formal education systems must work together to engage audiences, share new information in non-threatening ways, and promote behavior change to better manage climate change risk. Training projects should be integrated along with a broader national projects to increase education and understanding of climate change based on priorities reflected in a strategic plan of the nations. In addition to formal education, climate change literacy among media professionals and journalists can also contribute towards developing and disseminating interdisciplinary knowledge for the general audiences with regard to climate change risk adaptation.

            Transforming an individual (particularly for an adult) who may have denied climate change in the past into advocating the issue’s significance and change his/her behavior can be challenging, yet techniques which we can make use of are available for effectively educating adult populations and influencing positive behavior change. Through effective outreach and teacher engagement, we can start making our elementary or even pre-school aged population sensible to questions of why is climate important? How are people affecting climate? And how will changes in climate affect our lives? Education may hold the key to instilling long-lasting, effective action towards climate change risk mitigation. We must start with the youth, but not forget about the important roles adults currently play in influences climate change and mitigated its risks. Climate change impacts can target all men, women, and children. To respond to the risks posed by this phenomenon we must, thus, ensure we are forming a united, educated front of all these people groups through effective formal and informal education pursuits.

References:
Alejnadro, G, Goldman, S., Tracy, M. 2012. Climate Change Education: A Primer for Zoos and Aquariums (First Edition, Revised). The Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CliZEN). Chicago Zoological Society. Brookfield, Illinois. USA. Available at: http://www.clizen.org/files/ClimateChangeEducationEbookFirstEditionRevised.pdf
Painter, J. 2009. Americas on alert for sea level rise. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7977263.stm
UNESCO. 2014. UNESCO 2013 available on: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002271/227146e.pdf

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