Teaching for a different world

On any issue for which a drastic change in our way of thinking is required, the only real way to address the issue is through education, both of the adult population, and of our youth. In the case of climate change, one of the problems we face is that the concept of "climate" is somewhat alien to most of the population of our planet. This combines to present both irony and difficulty, as our lives, and those of our ancestors dating back, as Gilbert and Sullivan's PoohBah would say, to a "protoplasmic subatomic globule," have been shaped and guided by climate. The irony of our ignorance may be apparent - for all of our advanced technology, we lack a fundamental understanding of something of unparalleled importance to our existence.

The difficulty is that most people have a hard time accepting that they've been ignoring something that important for so long - if it mattered THAT much, we'd have noticed, right?

Wrong. Or at least not in the way that's relevant. Of course we all notice the weather - it's an international favorite for casual conversation - but not in the way we used to, or at least not in America. Our food availability is not linked to the weather except for the rare cases where the weather keeps us from getting to the store.

We need to change how we see the world, and part of that is changing how we teach our children about it. We can no longer afford to pretend that we are somehow separate or above the rest of our planet. Empires rise and fall as the climate shifts subtly, and foods go in and out of fashion. Biology, chemistry, physics, geology, geography, culture - all these are inextricable from climate, and cannot fully be taught without its inclusion.

Nor are they taught without climate, but we do not necessarily name it. When we say that the staple crop of Cuba is sugarcane, we are making a statement about the climate of that country. When we talk about religions that have certain traditions at certain times of year, we are making a statement about the predominant climate where those celebrations occur. When we talk about the Irish Potato Famine, we are talking about a phenomenon that was born, in part, from climate.

Now we need to put a name to it when we talk about it because it is changing, and unless we understand climate, we will not understand the changes. Beyond ourselves, as educators it is our responsibility to help bring that understanding to everyone else, and to do it in as efficient a way as possible. It is also our duty, as ever, to prepare today's children for the world they will enter when they grow up. That world is different from the one they see when they look back in time through entertainment media, and stories of their parents' youths. The future world is on in which understanding of climate will be as essential to their entire education as evolution is to biology today.