Day: March 18, 2009

Why aren’t we teaching about global warming in schools?

Quietly in public, loudly in private, climate scientists everywhere are saying the same thing: it’s over. The years in which more than two degrees of global warming could have been prevented have passed, the opportunities squandered by denial and delay. On current trajectories we’ll be lucky to get away with four degrees. Mitigation (limiting greenhouse gas pollution) has failed; now we must adapt to what nature sends our way. If we can.

From George Mondiot. Published in the Guardian, 16th March 2009.

In Britain there are a whole raft of differnt syllabii (at secondary level) for each subject, and different school boards have the option of choosing which one to follow, thus making interdisciplinary subject material very much a hit or miss affair.

In Ireland there is only one syllabus for each subject, so you would think someone at the top would be looking at what gets covered in each subject, and how the overlapping material can best be presented to complement this. In fact as teachers we are encouraged to find this out for ourselves, which I’ve no doubt some do. But most of us (while admiring the sentiment) simply put it to the back of an ever-growing ‘to do’ list.

Take Global Warming.
At Junior Cert Science level the words “global warming” do not appear.

The words “greenhouse effect” do make an appearance on the Leaving Cert Physics syllabus, almost as an after-thought in relation to chacteristics of Infra-red radiation.

I think it is dealt with in a little more detail in Leaving Cert Chemistry, but hopefully someone can add more detail.

What I am particularly interested in is to what extent is the following idea taught in our schools?

It is over-consumption on the part of the wealthier nations which is having catastrophic consequences for the poorer nations.

Is it covered in CSPE / Religion / Geography / anywhere else?

If not then I suggest that there is an obligation on us as teachers to try and change it.
One could incorporate the following

  • Science: The science of Global Warming / Extinction and evolution (after all, life will go on long after we’re gone)
  • CSPE: The ethics involved. In particular we need to address the fallacy where people believe that just because they don’t hurt anyone directly in their day-to-day lives, they are not not guilty of any wrong-doing
  • Geography: How/why civislisations have imploded in the past due to distruction of their own resources
  • History: I don’t know enough about History or how it is taught, but I imagine a lot of wars in the past were fought as a result of dwindling resources in one area forcing a whole population to move to seek food in another.

I’m sure there’s much more. the point is that Global Warming is only the most important concept to face mankind in the last generation, and we in school are doing almost nothing about it. And it’s just not good enough. Step one is simply to find our voice. And we’re not even there yet.