All students should be taught climate literacy

Academics should include education about the areas in which they live

A photo of the Stanley Park seawall. A pedestrian path separates the image into ocean and forest, and a small lighthouse is anchored in the foreground. The sky is slightly overcast, and almost blends into the sea.
Every day we see nature. It’s time we learn about it too. PHOTO: Kyle Thacker / Unsplash

By Tasha Romeyn, SFU Student

Properly educated, young people hold great potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. The environmental movement — which seeks to promote the responsible use of resources — has been gaining momentum, but how many students have time in their schedules to research climate education? Rather than shifting climate education onto students, we should build it into class hours.

By implementing education that creates connections between individuals and the environment, Vancouver can foster the development of pro-environment “green skills.” Manifesting in things like learning how to vocalize opposition to certain environmental policies, or in the recognition of the impacts of certain actions, green skills are necessary in pushing for the constructive change needed to protect our surroundings.

A good place to start is by facing what’s tangible — get to know your surroundings! Nature is all around us, and recognizing its presence is a great beginning to realizing its importance. It wasn’t until university that I learned about the Salish Sea — and I’m not alone in this. A survey found that less than 50% of Vancouver residents were able to identify the body of water that neighbours us.

Our ties to the environment cannot go untaught, especially in a coastal city like Vancouver. Rising sea levels make people on the coast increasingly vulnerable to displacement. Contamination and stormwater runoff have lowered the ocean’s water quality, making some shellfish unsafe for animals and humans to eat. An understanding of the extent to which we are affected by the ocean is critical for the survivability of coastal cities and should be an essential part of environmental education in BC. With a recognition of the impact that climate change will bring, people will be more motivated to enact change.

Through a guided tour of Stanley Park, I learned that the white berries which grow on many of the bushes we pass along the seawall have been historically used by Indigenous peoples for medicinal purposes. The wood makes a cleansing tea wash for babies and tea from the root can be used for post-natal wombs. Before this, I had never ever heard of the snowberry! Now, I look out for them any time I visit a park the way I look for a familiar face in class.

Climate education is impactful in even a short period of time. Students coming out of a one-year climate education course were found to have reduced their individual carbon emissions by nearly three tons per year. Educated individuals are further better equipped to lobby for the regulations necessary to prevent the climate crisis from worsening — 71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be sourced from just 100 companies.

The climate crisis needs consistent education, and students need to understand their place in climate change. Helping students realize the broader effects of their choices by establishing immediate connections to the land, however, encourages engagement with the climate crisis in a thoughtful way. Whether that be from including climate education as a part of our degree requirements or in city-sponsored education programs, we need to learn about the environments around us. Only then will we feel empowered and compelled to protect the world that we (should all) know and love.