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Toward a Climate-Literate Society

Citation: ELR 10838

Author: Mark S. McCaffrey and Susan M. Buhr

In 1958, as part of the science education efforts for the International Geophysical Year, a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) publication, Planet Earth: Mystery With 100, Clues, explained that the natural greenhouse effect was being altered. "[O]ur industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate," and if this continued, "it would have a marked warming effect on the earth's climate" and could "cause significant melting of the great ice caps and raise sea levels in time." Despite the 50-year lead time afforded by this portent of our current circumstances, citizens today hold significant and pervasive misunderstandings about climate science. Students and even teachers in modern classrooms exhibit multiple misconceptions about the climate system in general, and the causes and effects of climate change in particular.

While many efforts have focused on promoting a change of behavior aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, "an educated citizenry is required to make wise decisions regarding policies and practices aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the human impact on the Earth's resources." To support wise decisionmaking, an understanding of basic climate processes is imperative. In their paper, The Case for Climate Literacy in the 21st Century, Frank Niepold and colleagues call for a large climate literacy effort in the United States that "enables and fosters numerous partnerships, alliances and collaborations across the entire spectrum of educators, communicators, and science centers to achieve wider and more efficient opportunities to engage the public." They go on to state that "our country's future depends on the abilities of the public to plan proactively for the complexities of the 21st century."

Mark S. McCaffrey is a Professor at the University of Colorado, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Susan M. Buhr is a Professor at the University of Colorado, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

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