This month, millions of American children will start a new school year. As summer comes to a close, many in the country are still affected by heat waves, flooding, and fires. Some of this extreme weather can be attributed to global warming and with the return to the classroom, the question arises, to what extent is climate change taught in school?
American adults regularly interact with the topic of climate change through the news, political debates, and through their faith. The topic of global warming has become for many part of everyday life; one in five Americans say they hear about the topic in the media once a week. For most adults, global warming may be perceived as a relatively new – and for some, controversial – science that is usually introduced through higher education, media coverage, and the airing of political opinions.
Despite the appearance of controversy though, our nationally representative survey findings show that the majority of Americans agree that climate change is happening (70%). So it’s not surprising that a majority of Americans believe children should be taught about global warming in school.
What does teaching climate change in school look like these days?
Introducing climate change into the classroom should provide the basic knowledge about the science behind it, giving young people the needed tools to jump into a budding field and work toward careers mitigating its impacts and contributing to solutions.
A big part of such education involves explaining what causes climate change. The consensus in the scientific community is clear. Studies show that 97% of climate scientists agree: human-caused global warming is happening.
However, climate change lessons vary from classroom to classroom. According to a national survey of teachers backed by the National Center for Science Education, three in four high school teachers talk about climate change in the classroom. But, 30% of these tell students that humans are only partly to blame for climate change and 10% deny any human role.
With limited funds and resources, most educators pull from what they hear on the news, from the few topical classes they took in college, or work with old information.
The future of teaching global warming
Climate change needs to be officially added to the American educational system to create a universal understanding of the science behind it.
In a tumultuous political election, politicians and citizens alike are pushing for climate change action and education.
On June 17th, Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts filed legislation to create a climate change education program for students and citizens of all ages. The Climate Change Education Act would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help create a curriculum for both formal and informal learning. This bill would create a solid curriculum for students in the classroom and resources for public outreach and education.
While Markey’s bill wends its way through committee, there are resources available for those who are interested in teaching climate change.
While climate change has become a relatively common topic in mainstream media and political debates, an understanding of the basic science is not widely communicated or taught. Teaching climate change in school will help lay a foundation for the generations who will have to face its effects head-on and the American public is strongly supportive.
 J. Cook, et al, “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature,” Environmental Research Letters Vol. 8 No. 2, (June 2013); DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024
 Turner, Cory. “Why Science Teachers Are Struggling With Climate Change.” NPR, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.
 Cama, Timothy. “Bill Would Establish Climate Change Teaching Curriculum.” The Hill, 17 June 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.