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The Importance of Learning and Climate Change

Maya Brahmam's picture

While at the Carbon Expo in Cologne at the end of May, there was a great deal of interest in the climate change learning programs that we shared with attendees. The sense I got as I spoke with participants from a range of sectors (engineering, risk management, energy consulting) is that people are realizing that knowledge needs to be converted to learning to become practice, especially on a topic as complex as climate change. This was one of the drivers behind the development of our recent Massive Open Online Course on climate change.

Roxanne Bauer’s recent post cited Robert Redford calling for more storytelling on “complicated, politically charged issues like our environment and the need for swift action to combat climate change.” I found it interesting, therefore, to read that climate change is moving into the popular culture via a slew of films. According to a recent article in ClimateWire, “"Sharknado" joins a growing list of fiction films in which climate change helps drive the plot line, such as "Waterworld," "The Day After Tomorrow" and the Oscar-nominated film "Beasts of the Southern Wild." These movies join a collection of plays, books and games that fit into a new subgenre called climate fiction, or cli-fi for short, that pits humans against extreme forces of nature…”

I suppose that this is good news… not necessarily on the learning side, but it means that climate change is moving beyond the purely academic. The article goes on to cite Stephanie LeMenager, a professor at the University of Oregon who teaches about climate change through the lens of culture, "There is no question that film carries the potential to shock and enlighten. What's less clear is that it offers an incentive to keep learning and thinking for oneself.”

The problem is neatly summarized in a Guardian blog post: “Climate change is a scientific fact, and increasingly a lived human experience. But it is not yet what sociologists call "a social fact". It's not an integral part of the way we shape our social practices, nor a significant enough cultural norm to act as a constraint on our behavior…” The blog goes on to say “We do need a way of thinking and speaking that captures the fact that climate change is not merely one of many environmental problems, but a completely unique collective action problem, and one that is implicated in every aspect of our lives.” The author argues that a more fundamental transformation may be possible by capturing the need both for technical solutions relating to levers that can be pulled within our current system or paradigm (science, technology, law) and adaptive challenges (behavior, culture, democracy) relating to personal, political and social progress.

This brings me back to learning. There doesn’t seem to be any other good way to impart the knowledge on climate change in practical terms. Learning through social practices or culture is too new and the problem itself too multidimensional and inexorable to ignore.

Photograph by Danil Nenashev via World Bank Photo Collection, available here
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