Telling the Climate Justice Story:
Resources for Peace Educators
“In the coming decades, as humanity faces unprecedented challenges in terms of resources and climate change, what can my discipline or area of research contribute toward a better understanding of these issues?” —Douglas Klare
I attended the 2012 PJSA conference (“Anticipating Climate Disruption: Sustaining Justice, Greening Peace”) in pursuit of perspectives and tools to help me think about how to integrate teaching and learning about global warming and climate justice in Naropa University’s Peace Studies program. Scanning the schedule of conference offerings, one title (“Telling the Climate Justice Story: Interdisciplinary Education at Tufts”) leapt off the page.
Professors Jonathon Kenny and Ann Rappaport’s workshop emphasized engaging students as creative problem-solvers and presented an innovative final project in which students develop media projects, such as digital stories, to tell a climate change story. The course motto, “Story over statistics. Inspiration over instruction” got me thinking about ways to embed discussion of global warming and climate justice in the context of the courses I teach, drawing my attention to the local level, my own classroom, where I could immediately get to work and make a difference.
Six Audiences/Americas Arrive on the Scene
In January, 2013, I happened to be watching “Bill Moyers Journal” the night Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, appeared as Moyers’ guest. I was struck by the data that Leiserowitz presented and the implications for teaching and learning about global warming. Leiserowitz and associates describe and profile six Americas; they estimate that 16% of Americans are alarmed about climate change; 29% concerned; 25% cautious; 9% disengaged; 13% doubtful, and 8% dismissive.
The report, “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” compares and contrasts the Alarmed and the Dismissive, stressing that “the Alarmed are convinced of the reality and danger of climate change and highly supportive of personal and political actions to mitigate the threat,” whereas the Dismissive “. . . are equally convinced that climate change is not occurring and that no response should be made.” It concludes that each of the six audiences require specialized climate change education and communication. For an in-depth profile of each of the six audiences, the methods, and demographics of the study, download the report at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication website.
I found this report enormously helpful in thinking about dynamics in my own classrooms. Even when the six audiences are not directly present, they often show up indirectly through students’ frustration in communicating with family members, friends and co-workers about global warming and climate justice.
Thanks to inspiration from the Tufts workshop on “Telling the Climate Justice Story,” the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, and an essay called “Sustainability for Everyone: Trespassing Disciplinary Boundaries,” fall semester, 2013, I’m revising two of my introductory courses to work with students on telling the climate justice story.
Introduction to Peace Studies
The last two years, I have used David Barash’s anthology, Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies (2010) as one of the texts for “Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies.” In a unit on “Building Positive Peace,” we have read and discussed Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, wrestled with the film “The Inconvenient Truth,” and explored positive peace initiatives, focusing on initiatives led by women, for example, Majora Carter, founder of the nonprofit Sustainable South Bronx. See Majora Carter’s TED Talk “Greening the Ghetto” for a balance of inspiration (Majora’s personal story) and information (history and current context of urban revitalization initiatives in the South Bronx).
Next fall, I plan to add “Global Warming’s Six Americas” to the assigned readings to help students identify their own locations and to see their beliefs and attitudes represented in a larger context. After reflecting on their own beliefs and attitudes, students will meet in small discussion groups with classmates located at different points on the continuum; from there, we’ll branch out to survey family, friends and co-workers. I am considering creating a group research project in which we design and conduct a survey to understand the character of our own campus as a site of inquiry and action on climate change.
In past semesters, I have concluded the course with a unit on “Peace Movements, Transformation, and the Future.” In the fall, the focus will shift to contemporary climate justice movements, emphasizing groups active locally—350.org and The Climate Reality Project, for example.
Community-based Learning and Action
Recently I discovered an anthology called Teaching Sustainability/Teaching Sustainably (2012), edited by Kirsten Bartels and Kelly Parker, a collection of essays in the field of sustainability education.
The opening essay, “Sustainability for Everyone: Trespassing Disciplinary Boundaries,” penned by Douglas Klahr, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas, implicitly addresses the six audiences through a progression, or “choreography,” of readings designed for an interdisciplinary undergraduate course on sustainability. Klahr’s course is a semester-long reading-intensive (1,000 pages) course.
If you, like me, are going to be creating a module within an existing course, I recommend Klahr’s essay to see if any of the readings resonate with themes already present in your courses; for example, I have decided to adopt chapters from Garvey’s The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World (2008) for the next iteration of my “Community-based Learning and Action” course. The chapters on “Responsibility,” “Doing Nothing” and “Doing Something” contribute to central themes of the course (citizenship, personal and social responsibility) within the context of global warming.
I think those hoping to strike a balance between inspiration and instruction will appreciate Klahr’s integrative, interdisciplinary approach. His course addresses economic, environmental, philosophical and social dimensions of sustainability, with special attention to the “intellectual and even emotional impact” on students (p. 22).
Connecting the Dots, Moving Forward
The 2012 PJSA conference created a platform for PJSA members to address the question: “In the coming decades, as humanity faces unprecedented challenges in terms of resources and climate change, what can my discipline or area of research contribute toward a better understanding of these issues?”
Now that the conference is over and we’re back in our classrooms, what frameworks, methods, texts, films, and assignments have we discovered that inspire students who are not already inspired to face the challenges of global warming and climate justice? Alternatively, if “alarmed” and “concerned” students populate your classes, what frameworks, methods, texts, films, and assignments have you found to engage students already inspired to tell the climate justice story?
I welcome correspondence with PJSA members who are working on these and related questions, whether you are re-designing existing courses, collaborating with colleagues on interdisciplinary courses, or have the opportunity to design and teach semester-long courses dedicated to telling the climate justice story.
Bartels, K. & Parker, K., eds. (2012). Teaching Sustainability/Teaching Sustainably. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press.
Carter, M. (2006, June). Greening the Ghetto. TED talk. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from http://www.ted.com/talks/majora_carter_s_tale_of_urban_renewal.html
Leiserowitz, A., Maiach, E., Roser-Renouf, C. & Hmielowski, J. (September, 2012). Global Warming’s Six Americas in September 2012. Retrieved March 15, 2013 from http://environment.yale.edu/climate/item/Climate-Beliefs-September-2012
Moyers, B. (2013, January 4). Ending the Silence on Climate Change. Retrieved March 15, 2013 from http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-ending-the-silence-on-climate-change/
—published in The Peace Chronicle, Spring-Summer 2013
DRAWS THE LINE
Saturday, September 21, 12:00 PM
Colorado State Capitol Building Denver
We met at noon on the steps of the State Capitaol and from there walked down the 16th Street Mall, to the SunCorp on 17th, then to the Canadian Consulate on Broadway (see photo of the Global Warming Crime Scene.)
With gratitude to 350.org for vision, creativity, data-gathering, communication, and community-organizing.
Some people I met along the way are featured in the photo gallery.