Climate, Schlimate

Worried that K-12 students aren't learning about climate change? Guess what—neither are college grads. Grads with BS and MS and PhD degrees in biology, ecology, and related subjects. At least, it seems that way.

At a recent Ecological Society of America conference, I interviewed scores of upper division students, recent college grads, and ecology professors who dropped by NCSE's booth.

I asked each visitor if he or she had taken (or taught) a formal class or unit in the last five years devoted to climate change. The answers were overwhelmingly "No". A bit of climate science had sometimes been slipped into their curricula, but not much.

The kicker? "My school offered climate science classes" said one grad, "but I didn't take them—they weren't required".

The irony? If the ESA conference sessions are any indication, a lot of the research these grad students will pursue involves climate change. How will climate change affect marine life due to acidification? How will climate change affect soil, tolerance for invasive species, dormancy, bird distribution, and a hundred different topics? These grads will be conducting this climate change-related research without the benefit of formal climate change education.

What are the implications for science education? In talking to the grads, I discovered that many were already teaching college-level science classes (mostly as TAs), and that a fair number planned to teach high school biology at some point. But how, I asked, can you teach biology in this century without incorporating climate change? It's like teaching astronomy without talking about stars! And how can you teach climate change well and completely without some kind of formal education in the topic?

Good questions all, mused the grads.

I'll grant you, my "survey" was informal, my evidence anecdotal. But if what I discovered is largely true for recent biosci grads, we're looking at serious consequences for science education and for our warming world. (For an interesting related read, check out "Comparing Climate Change Awareness, Perceptions, and Beliefs of College Students in the United States and China".)

But then again, maybe I'm full of prune whip. Are you a biology college student, grad, or professor? What's been your experience? Post a note in the Comments section below and let's talk!