Teaching Climate Change at the Community College

Resources for faculty who include the topic of climate change in their PCC classes

Communicating climate change

Image of a man lecturing about climate changeDiscussions of climate change can trigger defensiveness (see tab for Climate change and the brain), political polarization (see tab for Climate denial), and deep emotions (see tab for Climate grief). Educators must decide whether to keep the focus on the more hopeful topic of climate solutions or include information on the severity of the crisis (see tab for Hope vs. doom).

Substantial research has verified what scientists, educators and activists have learned the hard way: that presenting a litany of horrific facts about climate change is not effective in generating engagement in the issue:

"Proceeding from the assumption that your audience lacks facts —that is, that they have a deficit —all you need to do is give them the facts, in clear and eloquent and dramatic enough terms, and you can make them feel like you want them to feel, how they ought to feel, how you feel. But research on the practice of risk communication has found that this approach usually fails, and often backfires. The deficit model may work fine in physics class, but it’s an ineffective way to try to change people’s attitudes. That’s because it appeals to reason, and reason is not what drives human behavior."  --Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, Stanford University 

"Climate change information is usually taught with a deceptive linearity known as the “science push” model of knowledge transfer.... This often takes the form of riveting, yet ultimately numbing bad news “Powerpoint” presentations..... Poorly executed climate change messaging on the part of teachers, known among faculty as “glooming and dooming,” can produce despair, being overwhelmed, numbness, hopelessness, fatigue, and cynicism."  -- Krista Hiser and Matthew Lynch, "Worry and Hope: What College Students Know, Think, Feel, and Do about Climate Change."

See below resources about effective ways to communicate the topic of climate change. Many of these are targeted at activists or scientists, but are relevant for educators as well. 

Tips for communicating climate change