By addressing the nature of science in connection with lessons on
climate change, students also have the opportunity to better understand the value of science as a central tool in explaining and understanding the natural world (McComas, 2017). They can thus better
appreciate how scientists use observation, empirical data, and other
evidence to develop working theories that may change over time as
new data are gathered. This newly gained knowledge, not only about
climate change but also about the scientific endeavor, may also enable
students to better judge which sources are the most reliable with
regard to statements about scientific consensus and enable them to
eventually distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.
Risk Management Lessons
In the best-case scenario, an appreciation of scientific inquiry will
enable students to integrate the data on climate change into their
own understanding of the natural world and allow them to see
how scientists have been able to come to a consensus on the anthropogenic causes of climate change as well as predict long-term effects
of climate change based on theoretical knowledge. Students may
also then recognize that the acquisition of such scientific knowledge
is essential because a better understanding of the causes of climate
change can help develop policies that alleviate further environmental
destruction, while a deeper understanding of the effects of climate
change can also enhance our ability to anticipate complex issues arising from climate change and enables scientists to improve projections that support more informed decisions by policymakers and
land managers (Urban et al., 2016).
This emphasis on effects of climate change also presents a new
educational tactic that focuses simply on reframing the issue as “risk
management” (Weber & Stern, 2011). Risk management is a concept
that students are readily familiar with through activities in everyday
life at school or in the home, such as wearing a helmet to reduce the
risk of brain damage in case of a bike accident or securing heavy fur-
niture to the wall to prevent injury in case of an earthquake. Risk man-
agement can be introduced to students using Table 2, which presents
an overview of risk management strategies for catastrophic events that
students are familiar with, such as life-threatening diseases, car acci-
dents, house fires, and even climate-related events such as floods or
wildfires. Weber and Stern (2011) point out that there are multiple
ways of managing risk. The table highlights two of these strategies:
(1) reducing the likelihood of a catastrophe occurring and (2) lower-
ing the damage/cost of catastrophic events when they do occur.
By reframing climate change discussions in the classroom into a
conversation about risk management, teachers can use these everyday activities to show how it is logical to do things to prevent or mitigate possible risk situations. Thus, instead of presenting students
with a simplistic statement on how human activities are a major
cause of climate change, it is beneficial to look at exactly how
humans can mitigate climate change danger and how those mitigation efforts could have direct effects on their own health and safety.
When using a risk management approach, it is best for teachers
to find local or personal examples. This motivation and incentive can
come through the emphasis on effects of climate change at a local
and personal level and on mitigation measures that offer quicker
and more visible results. A focus on how climate change affects
human health can also be very influential; for example, decarbonization measures can have immediate and local benefits for human
health (Luber et al., 2014). This is in stark contrast to the general
global and long-term effects of climate change and something that
individuals can understand more easily (Nemet et al., 2010).
If teachers are unaware of how climate change is affecting their
local area, they can refer to the National Climate Assessment, which
is broken down into various areas, not only geographic (e.g., Midwest
or East Coast) but also rural vs. urban. This report also includes an
excellent chapter on human health and climate change, which lends
itself very well to explaining the risk of climate change on a personal
level. For more information on the effects of climate change on human
health, see the chapter on human health in the National Climate
Assessment, which appears every four years (the 2014 report can be
found at https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors).
This approach also allows instructors to circumvent the “debate” –
and the various denialist arguments over whether or not climate
change is caused primarily by humans or if the change is severe enough
to result in severe global environmental changes – and simply state the
benefit of preparing for and preventing potential risks. This reframing
of the issue may also allow citizens to more easily accept the legitimacy
of scientific consensus because it no longer appears to be a situation of
blame, and thus they could be more willing to learn about measures
that would help diminish global warming, thereby becoming active
participants in the mitigation of global climate change.
Table 2. Introducing the concept of risk management using familiar scenarios and two different
strategies (reducing likelihood, reducing costs/damages).
Reducing the Risk Presented by Catastrophic Events
Strategy 1: Activities Designed to Reduce Likelihood of
Strategy 2: Lower the Cost (Monetary and Personal) of
Catastrophic Events If They Occur
Disease: getting vaccinated, watching our diets, seeing the
doctor, precancer screening programs, etc.
Disease: medical research to find cures for deadly diseases,
health insurance, quarantine, etc.
Car accident: staying off icy roads, rotating tires, driving
Car accident: airbags, seatbelts, first aid kits and training, etc.
Fire: chimney inspection, removal of faulty electrical wiring,
cleaning lint from dryers, etc.
Fire: fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, fire insurance, etc.
Climate change: adoption of energy-efficient and low-emissions technology, reducing carbon production, etc.
Climate change: protection of vital infrastructures, improvement
of early warning and emergency response systems, etc.