formal and informal educators must develop new ways to translate this information. The steps we describe here can help empower the nation’s present and future decision makers with the basic knowledge required to make informed choices. Although there are many other important approaches, we focus here on three specific areas: climate change education in the classroom, for the general public, and for decision makers.


A student today may become tomorrow’s business leader setting strategic priorities amidst changing energy markets, a mayor considering a seaport plan, a farmer adapting to new weather patterns, a designing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, or a citizen reducing his or her own carbon footprint. Today’s students will need the knowledge and skills that will enable them to make informed decisions and actions, whether as engaged citizens or as future leaders.

The underlying science, while increasingly clear and compelling, involves complex concepts and processes, global perspectives, decades-long planning, and some irreducible uncertainties. Furthermore, decisions involve many other factors besides climate science, including economics, social values, competing priorities, and the risk and inherent messiness involved in virtually all complex decisions. This complexity, coupled with the long-term dynamics of the climate system, makes climate education challenging. Yet this richness and complexity provide an interdisciplinary context for deep learning, grounded in real-world challenges, and a content domain that will help schools implement required standards in science, mathematics, and social studies. For example, K-12 students can learn about the economic, political, and moral dimensions of climate change in addition to the basics of climate science (Figure 8.1). At the college and university level, the issue of climate change provides opportunities to engage students in both basic science and professions such as law and business and is especially useful in training students in the sort of interdisciplinary thinking needed for real world careers and decisions.

Current State of Climate Education

Climate change education confronts many of the same challenges as the broader effort to improve scientific literacy in schools and colleges, including the difficulties many teachers have in keeping up to date with rapidly evolving science and related issues. Professional societies such as the American Association for the Advancement

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