Tag Archives: Climate Change

Why Address Climate Change in the English Language Arts Classroom? Part II

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.

Summary

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-beachRichard 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

 

webb-allen-2Allen 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. 

Why Address Climate Change in the English Language Arts Classroom? Part I

This post is written by members Richard Beach and Allen Webb. This is the first of two parts.

Even with the publication of our book, Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference (co-published by NCTE and Routledge), we are still asked: why address climate change in English language arts? Isn’t climate change a subject for Earth Science, not English?

Our response is multifaceted:

  • We know global warming is happening and is caused by humans because of scientific findings.
  • We know that climate change profoundly involves
    • history, culture, society, and the social order;
    • understanding the experience of others;
    • reflecting on crucial moral and ethical questions;
    • addressing inequality, racism, and nationalism;
    • and using the imagination to better understand the past, present, and future.
  • We believe that addressing climate change requires students to
    • draw on the literary imagination,
    • critically understand mass media,
    • write creatively and persuasively, and
    • develop an ability to speak out on perhaps the most profound challenge to face the human race and life on Earth.
    • These areall practices found in the English language arts classroom.

After reading a chapter from Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, one of Allen’s English students remarked this past week, “We are in serious trouble. It appears that global warming is much, much, much worse than I originally thought.” For most Americans, including most English teachers, the impact of climate change has not yet really sunk in. The corporate media is not informing us about the problem. Yet, what we do in the next few years will make the difference between the Earth warming 2ºC–the target set by the Paris Agreement—and 4ºC or more.

One of the world’s leading climate scientists has said that the difference between 2ºC and 4ºC is “human civilization.”  In 2016 alone, the earth warmed 0.12ºC so that at that rate, two full degrees can happen in less than 20 years. Although the earth has only warmed 1ºC so far, climate change is already having profound impacts. Massive droughts around the world including in the US and Europe, heat waves, sea level rise, unprecedented human migration, devastating megastorms, and much more is already underway. 20 million people are currently in famine in Africa because of climate-change-related drought, leading to what the United Nations has described as, “the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” Serious scientific predictions are that beyond 4ºC, dangerous climate feedback loops threaten the extinction of all life on Earth.

Science without the imagination fails to recognize these impacts of climate change on society, and what can be done to address it. In his endorsement of our book, leading climate-change expert, Bill McKibben (2010), notes the relevance of climate change to English language arts:

The scientists and engineers have done their work, providing a timely warning on climate change and producing the technologies like solar panels that would help take it on.  It is the rest of us that have so far failed, and it’s largely a failure of . . . imagination, precisely the reason we have English class. This book will help many teachers understand their craft in light of the planet’s great crisis.

Responding to Literature

Even though the effects of climate change—rising temperatures, warming/acidification of oceans, sea rise/flooding, droughts, and extreme weather events—are increasingly evident, many people still do not understand the profound implications of climate change, nor do they perceive the need for immediate action. In responding to Romantic poetry and contemporary environmental writers as well as literary works often taught in the secondary curriculum—from The Grapes of Wrath to Lord of the Flies and from The Tempest to Frankenstein or Huck Finn—students are experiencing portrayals of the relationships between human beings and nature.

In reading more contemporary “cli-fi” literature, students are transported into the near and more distant future in which characters are coping with even more extreme adverse climate change effects. For example, in responding to Memory of Water (Itäranta, 2014), students enter into a world in which climate change has led to droughts and wars over water. They empathize with Noria Kaitio, the main character who is a seventeen-year-old living in a Scandinavian country. Noria has studied to become a tea master like her father, so she knows the location of hidden water sources. When her father dies, she acquires knowledge of a secret spring, but the army also learns that there is a spring and seeks to imprison her unless she reveals the location. Through the novel, students experience a future world coping with drought, a condition already impacting much of the Mideast, Africa, and India and forcing people to migrate to other parts of the world.

There are also many accessible, impactful works of climate fiction appropriate for secondary students, including three recent short story collections:

– Martin, M. (Ed.) (2011). I’m with the bears: Short stories from a damaged planet. New York: Verso.

– Milkoreit, M. (2016). Everything change:An anthology of climate change fiction. Tempe: Arizona State UP.

– Woodbury, M. (Ed.) (2015). Winds of change: Stories about our climate. Coquitlam, Moon Willow Press.

Many of these stories have teenage protagonists or raise crucial questions that young people can further explore.

References

Itäranta, E. (2014). Memory of water: A novel. New York: Harper Voyager.

McKibben, Bill. (2011). Eaarth: Making life on a tough new planet. New York: St. Martins Press.

richard-beachRichard 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

webb-allen-2Allen 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. 

Teaching Climate Change in English Language Arts

This is a guest blog written by Richard Beach, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst for Minnesota. 

Richard BeachDue to years of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gas emissions, the earth has already warmed one degree Celsius and is projected to increase in the future by four degrees and more, leading one scientist to note that “the difference between two and four degrees is human civilization” (Marshall 241). Evident in the fact that the ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 2003, this warming results in droughts, forest fires, melting of Artic and Antarctic ice and mountain snow packs, rising sea levels, shifts in jet streams, and more extreme weather events.

To address the challenge of climate change, representatives of 195 countries met in Paris in November 2015 to agree to voluntary emissions reductions to limit future temperature increases to two Celsius. However, as Bill McKibben argues, without the political push for enforcement mechanisms such as carbon taxes and emissions control regulations, it’s unlikely we’ll achieve the needed reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

ELA teachers can play a role in addressing this significant challenge. Students can experience portrayals of future generations grappling with the effects of climate change through responding to cli-fi literary texts such as The Windup Girl (Bacigalupi), The Carbon Diaries 2017 (Lloyd), Flight Behavior (Kingsolver), Memory of Water: A Novel (Itäranta), Arctic Rising (Buckell), The Year of the Flood (Atwood), The Water Wars (Stracher), or Sixty Days and Counting (Robinson). They can also engage in simulations and games related to climate change. In responding to these texts, simulations, and games, students can imagine themselves in the future coping with the effects of climate change, leading to a moral concern for the future of humanity resulting in political advocacy (for activities on ethical/ecojustice issues from Rita Turner’s book, Teaching for Ecojustice).

Based on reading nonfiction books on climate change, students can also entertain needed changes in our energy, economics, and transportation systems. Students can question the reliance on fossil fuels and explore alternative clean energy options, denser housing, increased use of mass transit, and shifts in excessive consumption habits. They can also examine the adverse effects of an economic system driven by growth based on fossil fuels, an agricultural system focused on use of fertilizers depleting soil quality, a housing/community development system that supports suburban sprawl and dependence on a car culture, and a political system in which the fossil fuel industry seeks to block environmental regulations.

This includes critical analysis of media representations of excessive consumption through advertising as well as how the media continue to frame climate change as “controversial” or “debatable” despite the fact that 97 percent of scientists attribute climate change to human causes. For a digital media literacy curriculum, see Project Look Sharp.

To develop instructional activities, ELA teachers can acquire information and resources from many organizations focused on climate change as well as educational organizations providing curricular materials. They can also access a website for English language arts teachers based on a book-in-progress that Allen Webb, Jeff Share, and myself are currently working on for teaching about climate change for ELA teachers. If ELA teachers wish to contribute their own descriptions of related classroom activities, please contact me at rbeach@umn.edu.

References

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Anchor Press, 2010. Print

Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Windup Girl. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2015. Print.

Buckell, Tobias S. Arctic Rising. New York: Tor Books, 2012. Print.

Itäranta, Emmi. Memory of Water: A Novel. New York: Harper, 2014. Print.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior: A Novel. New York: Harper, 2013. Print.

Lloyd, Saci. The Carbon Diaries, 2017. New York: Holiday House, 2011. Print.

Marshall, George. (2014). Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.

McKibben, Bill. “Falling Short on Climate in Paris.” Editorial. The New York Times, 12 Dec. 2015. Web <http://tinyw.in/SHYe>.

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Sixty Days and Counting. New York: Spectra, 2007. Print.

Stracher, Cameron. The Water Wars. New York: Sourcebooks Fire, 2011. Print.

Turner, Rita J. Teaching For Ecojustice: Curriculum and Lessons for Secondary and College Classrooms. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print

Further reading on teaching climate change in English language arts

Bartosch, Roman, and Sieglinde Grimm, eds. Teaching Environments: Ecocritical Encounters. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. Print.

Beach, Richard. “Imagining a Future for the Planet through Literature, Writing, Images, and Drama.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 59.1 (2015): 7-13. Web.

Bill Bigelow, and Tim Swinehart, eds. A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 2014. Print.

Curry, Alice. Environmental Crisis in Young Adult Fiction: A Poetics of Earth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

Greg Garrard, ed. (2011). Teaching Ecocriticism and Green Cultural Studies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
Antonio López. Greening Media Education: Bridging Media Literacy with Green

Cultural Citizenship. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. Print.

Sasha Matthewan. Teaching Secondary English as if the Planet Matters. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
Derek Owens. Composition and Sustainability: Teaching for a Threatened Generation. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001. Print.

Robert P. Yagelski. Writing As a Way of being: Writing Instruction, Nonduality, and the Crisis of Sustainability. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2011. Print.