This post is written by members Richard Beach and Allen Webb. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.
Studying Language Use
The study of climate change is also an ideal topic for understanding the use of language, argumentation, and creative and persuasive writing. Though some politicians have succeeded in making climate change a partisan issue, climate change will impact people regardless of their politics.
English students can examine the use of language in public discussions, news reports, and the mass media. For example, in a CNBC interview, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, stated, “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
In critiquing such statements, students could explore the larger social and political agendas behind Pruitt’s rejection of scientific research. Through critical inquiry, students can analyze Pruitt’s use of language, his climate denial, his interpretation of scientific “disagreement,” and investigate his ties to the fossil fuel industry.
Given that our current lexicon for describing the experience of climate change effects may be inadequate, students could also create new concepts for describing climate change by noting examples from The Bureau of Linguistical Reality.
Critiquing and Transforming Systems Impacting Climate Change
Addressing climate change entails not only the transformation of individuals’ beliefs and attitudes regarding the need for change, but it also fosters the transformations of energy, economics, agriculture, and transportation systems dependent on fossil fuels. Making changes in these larger systems requires that students gain an understanding of the forces driving these systems as well as strategies and tools for arguing for changing these systems. For example, students can study the economic benefits of moving toward renewable energy and transportation options in their community to then make the case to their communities regarding increased use of renewables, increased development of bike lanes and mass transits, and subsidies for purchase of electric cars.
Students can also examine issues of climate justice related to the impacts of climate change on people of color and those living in poor countries who have little to no responsibility for causing the problem. Americans, who make up 4% of the world’s population, are responsible for 27% of all greenhouse gasses, and they continue to be the greatest polluters per capita. Students can address how this inequality and racism impacts the causes, impacts, and solutions related to climate change by accessing testimonials of survivors of climate change calamities, from Katrina to Syrian refugees, as well as how people in indigenous cultures engage in sustainable living.
Students can write, develop presentations, and use social media in their schools and communities to address these issues by examining their own, their school’s, and their community’s carbon footprint. As they gather evidence to support their claims for change or development of policies, students might use the Writing 4 Change platform that includes a collaborative whiteboard space and a media asset library for collaborative writing and feedback.
More than any other discipline, English language arts can help students think critically about climate change stories in personal, social, and moral contexts. The stakes for ourselves, and for our students, are too high to ignore climate change or leave consideration of it to others in less comprehensive disciplines.
We provide examples of English language arts teachers engaging their students in addressing climate change in our book, on our wiki website and in the ongoing blog, English Teachers Concerned about Climate Change. We invite your ideas and input to this wiki and blog. Join in to foster student understanding, engagement, and action on the greatest challenge facing the human race.
Richard Beach is Professor Emeritus of English Education, University of Minnesota. He is author/co-author of 25 books on teaching English, including Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference (Routledge) and co-distributed by NCTE, that includes a resource website. Twitter: #rbeach
Allen Webb is Professor of English Education and Postcolonial Studies at Western Michigan University, USA. He was a former high school teacher in Portland, Oregon. Allen has authored a dozen books, mostly about teaching literature for secondary teachers published by NCTE, Heinemann, and Routledge. He has also been studying, teaching, and involved in political organizing on climate change for the last five years. Currently, Allen teaches about climate change in literature, environmental studies, and English teaching methods classes.