I will probably not live to see the long-term apocalypse toward which our species is hurtling. My daughter will. But even today, the effects of climate change are obvious. The extreme weather phenomena we’ve seen in recent years—massive wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding—smack us in the face like a dead fish with evidence. The fact that some media outlets—I’m looking at you, Rupert Murdoch—continue to voice skepticism and even flat-out denial that carbon emissions are causing this and will continue to cause this, astonishes me. Climate deniers are a bunch of old men, my peers, who don’t want to believe in global climate change because it may adversely effect their yearly profit/loss report, and because they themselves will have gone on to meet their maker when the ocean begins to flood their waterfront properties.
Like my daughter, my students, typically between the ages of 15 and 17, are going to reap this harvest. If you’ve ever seen Al Gore’s multiple award-winning 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, you’ve seen the dire scenarios the future could bring: the flooding of densely populated areas, widespread power outages, collapsed woodframe houses, mass migration of refugees from climate disasters, whole regions afire, the smoke wreathing the entire planet (as is being seen from space right now), air quality havens like those recently created in my city for people who don’t have a place with safe, smoke-free air, hurricanes generated by warmer oceans flooding coastal areas.
If the only teacher in your school who is teaching this stuff is the Earth Science teacher, students will assume that any alarm they may feel about climate change can be compartmentalized into one of their six or seven classes. People are adapting, they’ll think, none of my other teachers seem worried. No one expects English and Language Arts teachers to teach students the science of climate change. However, we should be teaching them to impartially consider the reliability of information sources, using conflicting reports on climate change as examples. We can activate concerns they’ve had about the future in their writing units. We don’t have to be explicit. Just initiate a class discussion about their thoughts on the future. After a few responses about college admissions and technology, you’ll hear about climate change; those fears are right there, just under the surface.
My students are studying poetry right now. I’ll bet I can find a good poem about one of the multiple hurricanes from 2019 (Barry, Dorian, Ferdnand, Humberto, Lorenzo, Pablo) or one of the tornadoes that ripped across the Caribbean and the southeastern US. Or just one that addresses environmental concerns in general. The kids can probably point you towards song lyrics on the topic.
We have a responsibility to teach students that reading and writing are skills for engaging the actual, physical world they are experiencing. There is no topic regarding their physical world more urgent than global climate change.
January 19, 2020