Barriers and Opportunities for Climate Change Education in Dallas-Fort Worth

Barriers and Opportunities for Climate Change Education in Dallas-Fort Worth

Climate change is a current and serious challenge for cities and communities across the globe. Direct impacts, such as sea level rise, are felt by the general public in some areas. Yet, those who live in regions away from the coast can find it more difficult to comprehend local impacts of climate change. Opportunities to improve both formal and informal education on the topic can help residents in inland regions better understand the climate emergency.

For the inland Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) region, one impact of climate change is increased extreme weather events, such as flooding, heat waves, and severe storms. However, surveys of the general public and of science teachers in DFW show there is uneven awareness about extreme weather, climate change, and what to do to decrease risks from extreme weather and climate change. Teachers lack training and resources to teach climate change science to their students, which may contribute to more uneven knowledge in future generations.

We surveyed 115 people at the Texas State Fair in October 2015 to find out about their awareness of extreme weather threats in DFW, understanding of climate change science, and willingness to change their daily behaviors to lessen the impacts of climate change. Even though there had just been serious floods in the region, shortly before the survey took place, survey respondents lacked awareness of the seriousness of flooding in the region. Respondents also lacked awareness of DFW’s poor air quality, although they were more aware of the region’s serious heat waves. They lacked knowledge about some basic concepts related to climate science, such as the difference between weather and climate and the difference between the hole in the ozone layer and climate change. Finally, respondents did express willingness to change their behaviors related to climate change, yet they were concerned that these behavior changes could decrease their quality of life.

We also surveyed 118 pre-service and in-service science teachers in the DFW region from October through December 2015 using the same questions, along with additional questions about how climate change should be taught in schools and barriers they experience to teaching climate change. Science teachers generally expressed better awareness of extreme weather and better knowledge about climate change science than the public, although not on all questions. Teachers also responded that students should learn about climate change in school, including how both individual actions and public policies can address climate change.

However, teachers also reported a number of barriers to teaching climate change in their classrooms, including that fact that climate change is not included in the Texas state education standards and a lack of training, time, and resources. Also concerning was that 80% of teachers believed students should be taught both sides of the controversy over the public belief in human-caused climate change, even though there is scientific consensus that humans are indeed responsible for the current rapid changes to the climate.

Based on what we learned from these surveys about the public and science teachers in DFW, and drawing on other studies in the field of climate change education, we developed a number of recommendations for improving awareness of climate change in the general public and for improving formal climate change education in schools. First, focus on positive messages, such as the beneficial impacts of daily behavior changes, rather than on gloomy messages about the dire condition of our Earth, to encourage people to act. Second, climate change education should be made personal to the intended audience and local to the community, so the information is relevant and meaningful. Third, active learning in both formal and informal settings improves awareness and helps information stay with people longer.

For example, teachers should do experiments and projects about climate change with students. University extension programs and environmental nonprofit organizations can partner with museums, parks, and zoos to provide informal education with hands-on experience. DFW examples include the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s Research and Learning Center, Texas A&M’s stormwater education programs, Texas Tree Foundation’s Cool Schools program to address heat islands through tree planting, and local events like EarthX in Dallas and EcoFest in Arlington. Professionals who shape urban environments, such as planners, designers, and engineers, can be more involved in community education to help communities mitigate climate change and be more resilient to disasters. Finally, climate change education should be a required part of the State curriculum, and teachers should receive the training and resources necessary to teach the topic well. These steps can help our communities be better prepared to address the serious challenge of climate change.

Please find more information in our full article here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00958964.2019.1604479

Dr. Ann Foss is a Principal Planner in the Office of Strategic Initiatives for the City of Arlington, where she focuses on long range and transportation planning for the City. She manages the Arlington Urban Design Center, a partnership with the University of Texas at Arlington, which employs graduate students in planning, architecture, and landscape architecture to provide free conceptual design services for projects in Arlington. Ann’s research focuses on the role of political controversy and public participation in climate change planning at the local government level.

Dr. Yekang Ko is an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oregon where she teaches urban sustainability, energy landscapes, and landscape planning and analysis. Her research focuses on urban energy planning, green infrastructure assessment, and physical planning and design for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Her teaching and professional projects are based on community service learning and outreach, collaborating with governments, non-profits, professionals, and educators locally and internationally. She is currently directing the BLA program and the Sustainable Cities and Landscapes Hub of the Association of the Pacific Rim Universities (APRU).

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