Misinformation about climate change is distressingly common in the United States — a 2014 Yale study found that many Americans believe that global warming is caused mostly by natural phenomena rather than human activity, and that many more think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether global warming is even happening. (In fact, an overwhelming majority of scientists agree that climate change is here and that it is caused by humans.)
One way to stop the spread of this misinformation is to teach children about climate change via reading cli-fi novels written for the YA market and for adults, too.
A booklet titled Next Generation Science Standards offer one guide for doing so. Developed by a committee of scientists and education experts and honed by teams in 26 states before their release in 2013, the standards set forth a variety of scientific practices and concepts for students from kindergarten through 12th grade to master.
Middle school students can read YA cli-fi novels and learn a lot. They should also understand that “human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature.” In high school, students should learn that human-caused environmental changes, including climate change, “can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species,” and they should be able to use climate models to determine the rate of climate change and its possible effects.
Fifteen states, including New Jersey, California and Kentucky, have adopted the standards, as have about 40 school districts in other states. Some states that have yet to adopt them, including New York, already have standards that incorporate climate change. In September, Alabama adopted standards that differ from the Next Generation Science Standards but still require students to understand how humans contribute to changes in climate.
Other states continue to debate the issue. And many states are now adding YA cli-fi novels to their reading lists for teens.
In Tennessee, for example, new science standards now under review call for high school students to “analyze data linking human activity to climate change” and to “design solutions to address human impacts on climate change.”
At the seventh-grade level, however, they require students to use data “to engage in argument the role that human activities play in global climate change.” That standard appears to be in line with Tennessee’s 2012 law allowing teachers to help students “review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” That law was widely seen as supporting the teaching of evolution and climate change as controversies rather than as settled science.
Children today and in the next 30 generations of humankind will for sure inherit climate conditions severely changed by the actions of previous generations. They need to understand how those changes came about, how to mitigate them and how to prevent more damage to the planet, and reading cli-fi novels and incorporating the emotional impacts of such novels will be important. Schools can start by adopting science standards that deal extensively with human-caused climate change and that accurately reflect the scientific consensus and by making sure that YA cli-fi novels are on every school reading list for teenage students.