Climate Action

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| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Climate Change Awareness: Role of Education

  • Luisa P. AbadeEmail author
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Environmental education is an interdisciplinary process involving educators, teachers, parents, and scientists to stimulate individuals from several ages to explore environmental issues and to contribute to improve and protect the environment. The main objective of environmental education is to help the general public to develop a deeper knowledge of environmental importance and weaknesses and to have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions (Pooley and O’Connor 2000).

The scientific literacy is a process to obtain knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts, essential for individual decision-making, from environment protection, citizenship, and sustainable economic productivity (Spellman and Price-Bayer 2018).

The term climate change refers to global-scale climate change and/or regional climates over time. It includes significant climate variable changes, resulting in increased air and ocean temperatures, melting ice, rising sea levels, droughts, flooding, increased rainfall, and other impacts (IPCC 2014).


Climate change is a global issue that threatens the survival of the planet (Ojala 2012; IPCC 2014). There is a general consensus that climate change is changing the Earth biosphere, producing an increasing extinction of organisms, destroying ecosystems, and affecting severely human economy and health (Johnson et al. 2018). Therefore, it is urgent to change attitudes and concepts, and it is urgent to increase the public eco-literacy and implement solutions. The complexity of a changing world, resulting from climate changes, must involve several generations and sectors of the human society, for the search and implementation of effective climate mitigation actions. In this context, the process of develop an eco-conscious generation will be crucial, with children being the key to this challenge. It is well known that, within the human society, the age group of children will be most affected by the increasing effects of climate change because of their greater fragility and sensitivity, especially in extreme poverty contexts (Amato et al. 2016). Children are a common basis for all dimensions of sustainable development; thus, no advances in sustainability will occur in coming decades without multiple generations contributing to societal improvement (Chan 2013). The science literacy programs with children will contribute for a more eco-conscious generation, directly influencing the adults, with knowledge and effective will to mitigate the present and near future changes in climate.

This chapter is expected to contribute to these issues, exploring those questions, including some concepts and definitions of science literacy, environmental education as tools to inform the general public, and in particular the children, about the importance of ecosystems protection, the causes and effects of climate change, and how to involve the educators, teachers, parents, and scientists and society, in general, to work on solutions to mitigate those effects.

The Causes and Effects of Climate Change

Climate variation can result from both natural processes and factors and more recently due to anthropogenic activities through emissions of greenhouse effect gases. In fact, since the pre-industrial revolution, the combined impacting human activities as burning of fossil fuels and deforestation have caused the concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHG) to increase significantly in our atmosphere, driven by and exponential increase of economy and global population (EPA 2012, 2017; IPCC 2014). This scenario has led to an unprecedented increase of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide (IPCC 2014). The main cause of climate change is global warming, a result of greenhouse effect, with increasing negative impacts on biosphere. In normal conditions, atmosphere retains some of the Sun’s heat, allowing the Earth to maintain the necessary conditions to host life (EPA 2012). However, the increasing anthropogenic activities maximize the greenhouse effect, causing the planet’s temperature to increase even more (EPA 2012). The enhancement of this complex process results in increased energy amount being trapped in the Earth, especially in the oceans that absorb the majority of this energy. In fact, more than 90 percent of the warming that has happened on Earth over the past 50 years has occurred in the ocean (Johnson et al. 2018), being responsible for an increasing extinction of sea life. The warming of ocean water is raising global sea level due to the polar ice melting, compromising coastal human structures (Johnson et al. 2018; IPCC 2014). In addition, climate change-related risks are increasingly affecting worldwide ecosystems and population health (Tong and Ebi 2019).

Health and Climate Change: The Effects on Children

Climate change is increasing the burden of climate-sensitive health determinants and outcomes worldwide. The frequency and intensity variations in temperature, humidity, seasonal weather, and flooding patterns have expanded the geographic range and seasonal survivability of many vectors of disease (Patz et al. 2003; Wu et al. 2016; Ziegler et al. 2019).

The increase of seasonal weather changes also contributes to the mobility and expansion of common vector organisms (e.g., rodents and mosquitoes) to wider latitudes (Sutherst 2004; McMichael 2017). These issues combined with increased human mobility and density in urban centers will exponentiate the prevalence of vector-borne and waterborne illnesses (Barlett 2008a, b; Ziegler et al. 2019). Globally, there are clear evidences that the increasing of malaria, dengue fever, and cholera diseases and the increase illnesses associated with air pollution and aeroallergens are attributable to climate change (Perera 2017; Ziegler et al. 2019). In addition, recent studies have demonstrated changes in production, dispersion, and allergen content of pollen and spores because of climate change with an increasing effect of aeroallergens on allergic individuals (Xu et al. 2012; Tong and Ebi 2019). This proliferation of contagious and dangerous diseases is even more problematic when considering the risk groups, including chronically ill, elderly, and children. In fact, children are particularly vulnerable to these health issues because of their greater sensitivity, potentially greater exposure, and their dependence on caregivers (Ebi and Paulson 2007).

This problem becomes even more delicate when the first to be affected include low-income families and children from lower-income countries. Barriers to vaccinations and other primary care services as well as increased exposures due to inadequate housing and poor vector control in impoverished communities leave persons living in poverty at increased risk from infections known as neglected infections of poverty (Tong and Ebi 2019; Ziegler et al. 2019). Additional threats to children health are related to the exponential rise GHG emission, resulting from the urbanization and high levels of vehicle emissions and being responsible for increasing frequency of respiratory diseases (Frederica 2017). All these evidences stress the urgent need of mitigation actions and adaptation to the impacts of future climate variability. In this context, children can be considered more than a vulnerability group; with an effective environmental literacy, they can develop new capacity as active agents to play a role in addressing the challenges they confront related to climate change (Tong and Ebi 2019).

Educating for Sustainability

Environmental Education: How to Educate Children to Respect Nature

During the last decades, the main goal of environmental education programs has been to change environmental knowledge through increasing environmental knowledge; however, recent studies and evidences suggest environmental educators must also focus in changing environmental attitudes, emotions, and beliefs (Pooley and Connor 2000; Ojala 2012; Pendergast et al. 2017; Ziegler et al. 2019). The evolution to an increasing digital society also adds new challenges, especially in identifying reliable and robust sources of information. However, these new digital platforms can and should be used as a new opportunity for scientists and educators to translate the research results, disseminate, and discuss them with the society.

The environmental education process must involve educators, teachers, parents, and scientists to stimulate children to explore environmental issues and to contribute to improve and protect the environment. The activities must be adapted to the age ranges and, also, be in line with scholar programs, which will educate with the basis of scientific knowledge, essential for an effective environmental protective attitude. The translation of science can be applied through interdisciplinary activities, developed by educators, teachers, and invited scientists, designed to lead to the resolution of environmental challenges (Battro et al. 2017). These activities must, also, involve parents in scholar habitat, with the implementation of environmental consciousness at home. This activities’ expansion, involving all the family, promotes the desirable indices of public awareness and knowledge of environmental issues.

Some examples of activities to be developed in school can include board games, protected areas visits, questionnaires, photography contests, recycling activities, cleaning of areas (e.g., school grounds and participation in beach cleaning activities), construction activities (e.g., ecopoints, herbaria, miniature ecosystems, construction of a solar panel), and small and interactive presentations promoted with invited scientists and parents (FAPAS 2004; Eisenack 2013; Battro et al. 2017).

The main short-middle term goal of these activities and programs is to teach critical thinking to individuals, increasing public awareness and knowledge of environmental issues in a changing world (Spellman and Price-Bayer 2018). Environmental education does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action; in fact, these interdisciplinary activities teach individuals how to weigh various sides of an issue through critical thinking, and it enhances their own problem-solving and decision-making skills (Mendonca et al. 2012; EPA 2017).

Use Science Games and Activities for Learning

Besides the exemplified activities and games for children to use and learn about the environmental protection, there are many others that can be developed by scientists and educators in scholar environment. These games and activities must be, also, complementary with scientific level expected in scholar programs. Some examples of activities for pre-scholar ages include illustrative stories, multimedia books (physical or projected stories), and manual activities, with the construction of small mock-ups (e.g., ecopoints) and drawings. These activities can and should always be accompanied by small questions, in order to contextualize them. The activities for basic school can include board games (with scientific background) and organized visits to protected areas and research facilities (Eisenack 2013). Here the projected messages can be more extensive and always interactive. At the level of secondary school, the critical knowledge must be/should be enhanced using examples from scientific studies and small meetings with scientists, science summer schools and visits to laboratories.

Changing Concepts and Attitudes

How to Teach Kids About Climate Change

Global climate changes, driven by the consequences of human activities and population growth, are altering the Earth in a magnitude that pose current threats to human health, with the extent of these risks projected to increase over coming decades if additional, proactive actions will be not taken (IPCC 2014; Tong and Ebi 2019). Some of the most reported variations are related to changes in temperature, precipitation, cloudiness, and other climatic phenomena in relation to historical averages. The simplest way to transmit the main issues, related to climate changes, to children is to simplify and explain to them that the way human beings are living their lives is changing the world in a negative way. The multimedia resources can be an useful tool, especially in the basic school ages. A great way to introduce climate changes to children is with pictures, a video, or an integrative presentation, showing the beauty of nature (e.g., forests, mountains, rivers). The preschool ages can also experience the wonder of the natural world, climbing the trees and playing in the dirt; the experience to marvel with colorful plants and flowers will be a crucial component of the process. This first component shall be followed with the presentation of the GHG emissions, the devastation of large areas of forests, and some effects of these irresponsible activities. Here the degree of effects (impact) must be carefully measured according to the age of the students; it is imperative to talk with children about the causes and effects of climate change without making them think the planet is condemned. It will be very important to explain and exemplify to children that climate change threatens to destroy this beautiful, blue and green world and thus it is very important to preserve it (Pooley and O’Connor 2000; Rooney 2019).

The Role of Educators, Teachers and Parents: Build Positive Family Eco-friendly Activities

Climate change is part of both parents and children’s future and health. Mitigating the projected impacts of climate change requires cooperative tasks involving generations. It is very important for children to take a leading role in helping their family and friends to become more eco-conscious, as it will help them develop habits for a sustainable life (Ojala 2012; Monroe 2019). If the school transmits the positive facts about the world around them, it will contribute to create environmentally friendly families with daily habits of cutdown on waste and pollution, also as an example for other families. The intergenerational learning, including the transfer of knowledge attitudes or behaviors from children to parents, may be a promising pathway to overcoming socio-ideological barriers to climate concern (Lawson et al. 2019). Some of these changing attitudes and concepts can include, for example, reducing the waste of water and plastic, reducing the dispensable use of the car, and recycling. Children can also participate with their parents in projects such as a beach cleanup. It is very important for parents to follow eco-conscious attitudes, also as an example for children. For early-age children, the climate change concept is abstract; however, they are receptive to new knowledge and make part of an eco-generation and part of the urgent solution (Rooney 2019). Recent studies demonstrated that children can have an effective role in creating change now and in the future (Lawson et al. 2019).

Conclusions and Future Directions

One of the main objectives to implement effective scientific literacy is for the children and future adult to be able to understand, describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena, understanding science from several sources, and to involve society in the search for solutions. The application efficacy of this complex challenge is based on an interdisciplinary and closed interlinked network, involving educators, teachers, parents, scientists and society, in general, to work on solutions to mitigate climate change effects (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Triad with the three main intervenients for an effective environmental education, with the focus on climate change literacy


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Municipality of Aveiro and Department of Sciences of EducationUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luis R. Vieira
    • 1
  1. 1.CIIMAR & ICBASUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal