Okay, that’s a play of words on one of my all time favorite bumper stickers, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” The motto suggests a failure to invest in education will lead to waves of ignorant high school graduates unable to fully contribute to a democratic society. Using that same logic, failure to educate our youth about climate change will lead to a populace cognitively unfit to address our very serious climate problem. In other words, our future graduates will struggle to make informed decisions on such things as supporting a carbon tax, believing climate change denying politicians, or proactively reducing their carbon footprints by driving less, eating lower on the food chain, etc. A 2015 survey showing 63% of Americans think global warming is happening is a clear indication we have a long way to go in educating our students about climate change (98% of scientists believe humans are causing our climate to heat up).
People do better when they know better, which is why our schools must educate our youth about climate change science. And not just the foundational elements of climate science (energy flow, atmospheric and oceanic composition and processes, anthropogenic factors, etc…), but also the interplay of climate change with politics, social science, and economics. Schools need to develop/use rigorous and relevant climate change curricula that embed the Next Generation Science Standards with literacy, math, social studies, and the arts. Persuasive essays to make a case for carbon taxation; statistical analyses of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and temperature changes over time; artistic expressions of a futuristic renewable energy age or sustainable city; or phenological field studies exploring bud burst and insect hatch times. The possibilities are endless.
Whether choosing the next U.S. President, voting on a carbon tax, or adopting carbon neutral lifestyle changes, our future high school graduates will need to know better the consequences of a climate-changed world. They will need to understand the difference between CFCs and CO2, between anthropogenic and natural sources of greenhouse gases, and between carbon taxation versus free market cap and trade systems. Otherwise, we are doomed to the follies of a fossil fuel industry committed to extracting every last bit of carbon in their vast underground holdings regardless of the long-term climatic implications. And that is a very high price for climate change ignorance.