U.S. Already Teaches Climate Change In Schools

EPA chief Gina McCarthy told Irish America magazine In an interview published Friday that climate change should be taught in schools, which inspired The Hill to evoke the most abused cliché in journalism:
"The comments from McCarthy, who is the face of President Obama’s signature climate rule on existing power plants, will likely set off a firestorm among Republican lawmakers skeptical of the science behind climate change," writes The Hill's Laura Barron-Lopez.
But McCarthy's comment is hardly incendiary. The U.S. has been promoting climate change education in schools for years.
The most blatant example is the Teaching section of Climate.gov, which is maintained by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA's peer-reviewed curriculum includes lessons with titles like "Where Have All The Glaciers Gone?" and "Teaching Climate Science by Studying Misinformation."
NOAA describes that last lesson in language that makes McCarthy's comment seem cool: "In this activity, students critically evaluate the arguments about climate change raised in a climate contrarian newspaper op-ed. This exercise is intended to strengthen student critical thinking and content knowledge at the end of unit on the climate system."
NOAA's site is hardly top-secret; in May it won a Webby award.
Nor is NOAA the only agency helping educators teach kids about climate. NOAA collaborates with NASA and the National Science Foundation on a catalog of climate-education products and resources.
Last week I attended a Department of Energy virtual town hall on energy literacy, along with educators from 48 states. Climate was a significant topic at the town hall, and it's a significant part of DOE's Energy Literacy Framework (ELF) for educators.
In DOE's 2013 webcast announcing the framework, Albert Einstein Fellow DaNel Hogan offered this suggestion to educators:
"Examples of how you might engage learners around the physical science side of energy include hands-on energy lessons, different activities. Investigating energy transfers and investigating how energy is transferred from one form into another, and how with each of those transformations you lose energy to thermal energy. Engineering efficient devices for transforming energy from one form into another. Also the fact that energy is driving the movement of matter through reservoirs, and engaging students around the carbon cycle. This is also where we would look at the greenhouse effect and notice how that plays into the flow of energy.
"Examples of things that you could use to engage learners around the earth system science side of energy include again, looking at the the water cycle, carbon cycle, experiment with model atmospheres with varying concentrations of carbon dioxide, investigate the role of salt and global oceanic circulation. You could also have a look at black carbon, which has recently been in the news, and how it might be contributing to climate change. This is an easy way to pick something that we have seen in the news recently and turn it into a really relevant engaging topic that students can look at."
Energy's stance on climate education shouldn't surprise anyone either. During his swearing-in ceremony, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz famously said of climate science, "I'm not here to debate the undebatable." And DOE has an Energy Literacy Framework for Educators precisely because it considers energy illiteracy—of the sort that might fuel a firestorm—to be a problem.
DOE declared its designs on educators in its 2011 Strategic Plan, which calls for the agency to "actively participate in the development and implementation of a coordinated national energy education or energy literacy effort."
DOE's framework for educators "is one of the results of this call to action," said Michelle Fox, chief strategist for education and workforce development in DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
"We hear a lot of talk about clean energy, climate change, and all of the above key concepts, so that citizens, whatever age, can bridge science, engineering and economic concepts to help make more informed decisions about their own energy use."
If anything, EPA lags behind its peer agencies in climate-change education. EPA offers a Student's Guide to Climate Change website, and elsewhere it lists a few links to resources for teachers, including the National Wildlife Federation's Climate Classroom.
So when Irish America asked McCarthy, "Do you think that Climate Change should be part of the educational system?" she was hardly out on a limb when she said yes:
"Very much so. I think part of the challenge of explaining climate change is that it requires a level of science and a level of forward thinking and you’ve got to teach that to kids."
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