I’ve mentioned before the difficult situation climate science finds itself in, research as part of the 6 Americas project tells us that increasing levels of scientific literacy do not positively affect peoples willingness to act on climate change. In fact the opposite is true with greater understanding of the issue potentially creating greater political polarization (Kahan 2012). This is due to our formation of worldviews, subsequently rather than adapt this view in the face of new evidence we attempt to twist the evidence in favour of what we already believe. (This is both skeptics and believers guys so remember to hold on to your scientific integrity!). I’ve shown how a variety of tools may help address this inaction; narratives, framing of the problem, ignoring it all together in favour of talking about other issues e.g. clean growth or greater stakeholder engagement but a recent paper from the USA (Stevenson et al 2014)has pointed in another direction.
Children are yet to form worldviews (Vollerberg et al 2001), they learn, question and change opinions far better than adults do. Increasing their scientific literacy then may not dictate their risk perception in quite the same way as adults. Stevenson found increasing both the amount and quality of earth sciences education led to children more concerned about climate change in later life.
Whilst this on the face of it seems positive it’s a treacherous area. Firstly the school system in the US is a very politicized arena. Wars have been waged in senate and congress over the teaching of evolution and to introduce climate change into that fray is not easy. The second, a point raised by George Marshall when I asked him about the topic, is that we must be careful not to use children as propaganda tools. Whilst an excellent scientific education is of course brilliant, introducing the politics behind it, either directly or indirectly isn’t something children should be subjected to. I’m all for increased levels of education but this should give children the analytical skills to come to their own conclusions, and help them to be better scientists, not prescribe a worldview either way.