Teaching Climate Change at the Community College

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

Hope vs. doom

Book cover of Hope MattersInstructors who teach climate change face the challenge of deciding how to balance hope (a focus on solutions) and the unavoidable "doom and gloom" of the issue. This challenge is described by Krista Hiser and Matthew Lynch in their excellent article, Worry and Hope: What College Students Know, Think, Feel, and Do about Climate Change:

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.... While climate literacy is an imperative for college students, there is a degree at which immersion in climate change information can become  paralyzing: It is literally too much information, too fast, in too many dimensions.

This challenge is shared by anyone who attempts to communicate or educate on the topic of climate change. Psychologist Renee Lertzman writes:

For too long, there’s been a preoccupation with a “hope and despair” or “doom and gloom” binary. Climate change is the ultimate communications challenge: How do you motivate action in the face of what can appear to be an overwhelming situation? How do you inform without scaring people into inaction? What’s the magic formula? Some fear, with a dash of hope? Go all in on talking about solutions? Lay it all out there—the good, the bad, the ugly—and trust people can cope with it? -- Renee Lertzman "How Can We Talk About Global Warming"

Based on interviews with PCC faculty who teach climate change, as well as insights from faculty across higher education, the short answer to this challenge is to include a focus on solutions in your curriculum. Instructors report that many students are well aware of the "doom and gloom" aspects of climate change, but are not aware of all the work that is already well underway to promote mitigation and adaptation, and are heartened to learn about all of these promising developments. Hands-on work including Community Based Learning opportunities are especially valued.

Including solutions is not a panacea for the complexities of teaching climate change. See the article "Climate Grief: Our Greatest Ally?" by Jennifer Atkinson and other articles on the Climate grief tab for context. See below resources about acknowledging ecological doom, focusing on hope and solutions, and balancing doom and hope.

A good summary of the current state of climate and global politics is this sobering article from Rolling Stone, 2020 Zero Hour: There’s No Stopping Climate Change, But How Bad It Gets Is Still Up To Us.

Acknowledge ecological doom

Focus on hope and solutions

Balancing hope and doom