Our children are growing up in an unstable climate. It is already hurting their health, wealth and well-being. Universities can be leaders in helping young people acquire the knowledge they need to navigate this uncertain future. Curious Climate Schools, a project that directly connects young people with experts who can answer their questions on climate, is a model for this type of leadership.
Universities around the world are coming together this week to support leadership on climate action in their communities as part of Global Climate Change Week. In Tasmania, our Curious Climate Schools project connected more than 1,000 students, aged 10 to 18, with 57 climate researchers from various disciplines to answer student questions.
Climate change will increasingly affect the lives of our children, even as we take the deep steps needed this decade to avoid the worst. Young people will need to be made aware of the climate for the world they inherit. While it is established that learning about climate change is essential for improving understanding and action, climate literacy education is not compulsory in the Australian curriculum.
Our goal is to enable children to develop essential climate knowledge through a survey conducted by students. Our experts’ answers to questions from schools across the state will be made public on the Curious Climate Schools website on November 1. This will coincide with the COP26 climate summit, connecting local and global climate leadership.
Read more: More reasons to be optimistic about climate change than we’ve seen in decades: 2 climate experts explain
What do young people want to know?
The students submitted questions to our project that ranged from global to local. The key themes of their questions included:
The children had many questions about the science of climate change, but even more about our social and political responses. For example:
” I am 13 years old. What do you think climate change will change in the world in my lifetime, and what can I do about it? “
“Does the climate crisis have the potential to unite humanity in response? “
“As for future generations, what will they think of what we have done? “
While children are interested in the physical science behind climate change, their questions show that they are also concerned about how we should act on climate as a society. This suggests that when climate change is taught in schools, it should be taught holistically. While it is important to understand the drivers of climate change, education should also address the social challenges we face and the decision-making processes that this nasty problem demands.
Read more: Free Schools Guide to Inclusion and Climate Science Isn’t Ideological – It’s Evidence Based
A way to counter climate anxiety
The current silence on the climate in school education is bad for children’s mental health. Research has established that talking about climate change is an important first step in allaying legitimate climate anxiety. An education that empowers students to take action through climate literacy could reduce the mental health burden on young people.
We need young people with climate awareness. Empowering them to talk about climate change could both improve their mental health and help develop the engaged citizens and leadership we need to tackle the climate crisis.
Recognizing that children have a stake in climate action and decision making is vital. Without it, they feel helpless and frustrated. We have seen this in some of the questions submitted to the Curious Climate Schools.
“Do you think that we, the future leaders, are heard enough? For example, Scott Morrison or the other politicians, are they listening? “
These students are our future leaders. They deserve to be heard.
A model of university climate leadership
Many universities are well equipped to address local climate challenges in partnership with their communities. Curious Climate Schools is an example of how universities can engage with the public to improve climate knowledge and action.
Read more: Here’s how universities can lead climate action
Our project mobilizes the knowledge, attention and enthusiasm of 57 experts. They work in a variety of fields including climate modeling, biodiversity conservation, pyrogeography, chemistry, law, social sciences, engineering, geology, oceanography, paleoclimatology, indigenous knowledge and health. .
The Curious Climate Schools website will provide students with holistic climate knowledge and help teachers tackle a topic at the forefront of students’ minds – if not the Australian curriculum.
With initiatives such as Curious Climate Schools, universities can be leaders in climate action. At this critical juncture, it is crucial that we harness our collective talents in every way possible to ensure a liveable world for our children.