Embracing Climate Action Pedagogy: Empowering Change in the Face of Climate Challenges
The issue's complex nature and massive scope can feel paralyzing, even when one is aware of this stumbling block.Jill Giacomini | Division for Teaching Innovation and Program Strategy Oct 23, 2023
As we continue to grapple with increasingly severe climate catastrophes, it is difficult not to experience feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness. Hotter temperatures, increased drought, loss of species, massive wildfires, repeated "once in a century" hurricanes, and the poverty and displacement resulting from climate change are just a sampling of the effects of climate change. These devastating events are challenging to process, and the vastness of the problem can lend itself to a sense of hopelessness. Where do we even begin? Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist living and teaching in West Texas, contends that we can start by simply talking about it. Please take a moment to watch her short TED Talk in which she discusses the urgent need for all of us to engage in the climate conversation.
Inspired by Hayhoe's call for discussion, rational hope, and seeking solutions, I recently attended a Climate Action Pedagogy (CAP) session led by Karen Costa, which highlighted the fact that there are indeed things each of us can do to start to address the crisis. CAP is an approach that can help to bridge the gap between learning and action. I was reminded that, as educators, we are uniquely positioned to help transform education into action. We can do this by looking for opportunities within our own course context to create intentional experiences that encourage our students to apply what they are learning outside the classroom to take meaningful steps toward combating climate change.
Again, the question creeps in, where do I begin? The issue's complex nature and massive scope can feel paralyzing, even when one is aware of this stumbling block. Because of this reality, Costa emphasized three critical, guiding points that are fundamental for all of us to remember as we engage in this work:
- Start where you are
- Be vigilant against overwhelm
- Small is good; small is all
Keeping these modest principles in mind, along with Hayhoe's call to start the discussion, I invite you to look at some of the valuable CAP resources shared in the session, which I have included below. As you explore these resources, take a moment to jot down some ideas about the small ways you might begin to infuse CAP into your courses. If you would like to discuss any of your ideas further or just develop a plan for getting started, please set up a time with me to discuss your ideas or brainstorm. I would love to talk with you!
The Nexus | Project ReGeneration website comprehensively lists challenges and solutions to end the climate crisis in one generation. Organized topically, Nexus details what needs to be done and how to do it on all levels of agency, from classroom students to boardroom executive leadership. The extensive list includes various topics: Banking and Finance, Girls Education, Solar Power, and Ultra-Processed Foods. Each topic includes a call to action and specific resources, initiatives, people, and organizations that can be used to teach, engage, influence, and transform.
Start by exploring the topics on Nexus to discover resources that resonate with your field. You can use the information you find there as inspiration for assignments and discussions to engage your students.
The "All We Can Save" project identifies the climate crisis as a crisis of leadership and is focused on providing ways to facilitate deep and sustained climate engagement through participation and community. The site is organized to address multiple needs and audiences, including a specific, extensive section for educators and a page dedicated exclusively to resources for working with the complex emotions associated with climate change. The project is also a book that gathers the voices of 60 female climate leaders, including a mosaic of essays, poems, and artwork that can be used to spark thought-provoking conversations regarding the climate crisis in various content areas.
Try integrating readings from this resource into your teaching to give your students diverse perspectives about the impacts of the climate crisis. The "All We Can Save" project site includes many educator resources that can be used for inspiration. It also provides many already developed question banks, assignments, discussion guides, and read-watch-listen resources that can be integrated into your course with little to no additional course design work.
In the TED Talk video on her site, marine biologist and policy expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson shares the question she is repeatedly asked: "What can I do to help address the climate crisis?" Her answer is elegantly concrete and solution-oriented. Create a Venn diagram! In her talk, she walks the audience through the valuable exercise of visually depicting the overlaps between one's talents and interests, actions that need to be taken to support meaningful change, and activities in one's life that bring joy and purpose. She shares how this exercise can help those in any walk of life analyze these intersections to identify sustainable and meaningful activities that we, as individuals, can engage in to make a difference.
This activity can be easily integrated as designed into an existing course. Have students watch Dr. Johnson's video and use the template on the site to create their own climate action Venn diagrams. The diagrams can be used for any assignments, including reflection, discussion, or developing action plans.
So now you have three solid resources to get started. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need help.
Remember Karen Costa's advice: start where you are, be vigilant against overwhelm, and small is good; small is all.