- Author: Eliot Freutel
September marks a pivotal moment in climate change conversation and action and this week, September 20-27, is Climate Week - a time where people around the world are raising their voices to talk about what climate change means to them.
The UN Global Climate Action Summit will be held in New York Sept. 23rd for international climate negotiators to discuss their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a way that will help make the fight against climate change a reality. A recent article from the UC Newsroom by Carolyn McMillan details how the “University of California has joined forces with more than 7,000 colleges and universities around the globe to declare a climate emergency and commit to urgent action to address the crisis.” This agreement prioritizes climate related research within the UC system as well as expanded education and outreach regarding climate resilience and sustainability. This announcement is tailed by student protests to bring awareness to climate change and the University of California divestment of all funds from fossil fuels, setting an example for tackling climate change head-on and aligning your money with your values.
With every new piece of scientific evidence, the ability to remain hopeful, feel positive about our ability to address the situation, and have confidence in our capacity to engage constructively becomes a growing challenge. But there is power within all of us to tackle some of the immediate effects of climate change. The Climate Stewards Initiative (CSI) is a new certification program that will be offered through the UC California Naturalist program that “prepares individuals to communicate and engage in local solutions to advance community and ecosystem resilience.”By learning together about the causes of climate change, and actionable measures we can take to curb it, we can collectively reduce our impact and minimize the impact of changes already taking place. For people already doing these things themselves, they will learn methods and skills to communicate and work with others as to how climate change will affect them and, in the process, help them discover their own roles in the fight against climate change.
The Climate Stewards Initiative will be the first certification program of its kind in California and will provide participants with the tools they need to have an impact in their homes, communities, across the state and beyond. More than just a one-time course about climate change, Climate Stewards, is an ongoing social learning community that provides a transition from a sense of helplessness to a sense of empowerment. As community members, our efforts are multiplied when we work together toward share goals. As we band together to identify our strongest impact and act on it, we dive deep into a study on what climate resilience means to us on a personal level and help others discover answers to the same question; “what makes us resilient?” We become empowered to make changes at home, have a meaningful conversation with friends, families and neighbors, participate in local planning efforts, and advocate for environmental justice. Climate Stewards builds on the success of the UC California Naturalist program which a collective impact network designed to promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. Check out the Climate Stewards webpage for more information.
- Author: Olivia Cooper
Text and image by guest blogger Olivia Cooper. Olivia is an undergraduate at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She worked with former California Naturalist founding director Dr. Adina Merenlender on the research presented in this blog post.
In order to probe this question, UC California Naturalist founding director, Adina Merenlender, and I embarked on an independent research project, focusing on what makes up climate literacy, according to a sample of higher education climate change syllabi. A syllabus (or its plural, syllabi) is a document shared with students enrolled in a class. It provides an outline of course content, expectations, and learning objectives. My primary job was to find, analyze, and interpret climate change syllabi content available online. I searched the internet for public access syllabi, collected, cleaned, and sorted through data, the titles and descriptions that comprise climate change education. Next, I tossed the individual words together, simmering down the mixture with coded categories, baking at 350º for a few weeks of analysis, all to produce a collection of pie charts and hierarchical clusters rich with information about the components of climate change education.
Diving into the data, we found a clear emphasis on biogeophysical sciences, strength in social sciences and consequences, and some gaps in climate change communication strategies. We also noted a few gaps in the finer categories of climate literacy. While the hard sciences dominated the syllabi, terms related to conservation, biodiversity, and non-human species or systems were relatively rare. Place-based solutions terms were also not well represented in the syllabi, even though relevance to local context would be more relatable and foster dialog among the students, and is a key strategy to increase climate science literacy. Another notable gap was next steps--mitigation, adaptation, and communication terms were not consistently included in the syllabi.
Gaps like those we found in our sample of syllabi illustrate the increased need to address the interdisciplinary nature of climate literacy. For example, we know that focusing on tangible solutions and highlighting success stories increases motivation, efficacy, and persistence in utilizing new knowledge pertaining to climate change, as this encourages environmental stewardship through feelings of connection and attachment to place. It is insufficient to understand only the geology, biology, chemistry, and physics of climate change, although these areas are essential. Beyond understanding the biogeophysical sciences and social sciences at play, it is important to address how we directly interact with and are affected by this global change—what traumas are being faced by different groups, how can we mitigate and adapt to these changes, and how can we act? Even further, how do we include others in this network of climate literate people, and how can we communicate our climate literacy responsibly and effectively? Overall, we found the curricula to be very strong regarding both the biogeophysical and social mechanisms and consequences of climate change, and to generally cover potential solutions to climate change. It may benefit by including more discussion on how to understand rhetorical strategies to effectively communicate and process this global crisis.
To read the full publication, please see Cooper O, Keeley A,Merenlender A. Curriculum gaps for adult climate literacy. Conservation Science and Practice. 2019; e102.
The Climate Stewards Initiative is currently conducting a needs assessment to inform content creation for the course curriculum. If you would like to contribute to the formation of this new course, please follow this link.
If you have questions about the UC Climate Stewards Initiative, please contact Sarah-Mae Nelson (408) 482-4633; firstname.lastname@example.org