That Prezi above (which may be better viewed by visiting the link underneath the embedded version) is central to this post. So, step through it if you haven't yet.
If we want students to graduate from high school with even basic climate literacy, we need to do things fundamentally differently than we do now.
Right now, climate is vanishingly small in the high school curriculum. Though the NRC's Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards promises to bump that up some, it will take years (if it succeeds at all). Most high school students in this country don't take an Earth science class at all, so are unlikely to have a class that focuses on climate for any length of time at all after the eighth grade.
New York State has about 25% of the high school Earth science teachers in the country. I suppose that makes us lucky, or at least not as unlucky as most of the rest of the country. Even in New York, though, the statewide final exam, The Regents Exam, typically has one, two or three questions addressing climate change.
As I hope the Prezi makes clear, I think to be climate literate, you also must be Earth system literate. Without understanding how Earth systems interact, you can't hope to understand climate in a deep and meaningful way. That requires at least basic understandings of systems science including the workings of feedback loops and tipping points (for a couple of examples).
Much as I love Earth science teachers, I don't think they can be our savior here. Darn it. The scores of folks I know with that label are a pretty smart and valiant bunch, but even so I think it's beyond their collective reach.
So, what to do? Well, what does get taught in high school science? The most common courses are biology (by far the most commonly taught high school science), chemistry and physics.
What are the purposes of teaching biology, chemistry and physics? There are lots of reasons, of course, but my bias says most important is that we need these disciplinary understandings to understand the Earth system and humanity's place within it.
That requires recruitment of those folks to our collective cause, and to think much more about how to infuse systems science and Earth systems science across the curriculum. Unfortunately, I don't think systems science generally gets taught very well anywhere, though it applies everywhere.
It's worth noting that early in my journey to becoming a systems thinker, was a book by a physicist -- Murray Gell-Man's The Quark and the Jaguar.
And then I gradually became more deeply inclined to learn about ecology, where systems are, well, everything.
So, this isn't discipline specific.
But it is, because climate is, well, everything. It defines just about everything I see out my window as I type this. Having a climate (pretty much) like the one we have now made us the way we are. Messing with it stands a very good chance of making us different than we are in unpleasant ways.
So, what are we going to do? Let's start by enlisting teachers across the science curriculum, and indeed across the full school curriculum. (Oops. Did I introduce a new topic in my closing paragraph? I guess I've got something to write about next week.) Will you help enlist?