Bushfires in Queensland. Credits: 80 trading 24/Wikipedia
Bushfires in Queensland. Credits: 80 trading 24/Wikipedia

Education has a role to play in highlighting facts of climate change

published 18 September 2020 updated 16 July 2024

As the impacts of climate change are being felt globally, Education International says teachers must be free to teach the facts of this issue

The United States: Unprecedented wildfires

Unprecedented and devastating wildfires have hit the west coast of the United States of America. And, although there are many causes for this disaster, scientists agree that climate change is a major contributor.

Drought and record hot temperatures, and unusual lighting strikes called “dry thunderstorms”, were among the elements that may have resulted from climate change. Strong winds, some generated by the fires themselves, made storms so rapid that it was difficult or impossible for residences to escape. The Governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, called climate change “a blowtorch over our states in the west”.

Flooding due to hurricanes

However, extreme climate events have not been limited to fires. Hurricane Sally has flooded coastal communities in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. There have long been hurricanes in the US, but their frequency and severity seem to be increasing. In what seems to be an effect of climate change, the storms have slowed down. They are staying in one place longer and dropping more water. Heavy winds and flooding have also hit the Midwest.

Other countries and regions

Elsewhere in the world, many thousands of people have been displaced from their homes by the effects of climate change. Some experts consider that climate change will create the greatest flow of forcibly displaced persons in the next decade, more than refugees fleeing persecution as well as persons forced to leave by conflicts, violence, and extreme poverty; perhaps as many as tens of millions of people.

Droughts, storms, floods, tsunamis

Droughts have long displaced masses of people in Africa as well as causing starvation, but droughts are getting worse and relentless. Devastating storms, floods, or tsunamis, and rising levels of seawater have hit Japan, the Philippines, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands, as well as parts of Europe and North America. Latin America has also been hit by drought, rising waters, and increasing hurricanes and other storms (particularly Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean).

Australian bush fires

Australia had its worst and longest bush fire season in history, lasting from July 2019 to May 2020. The effects of the devastation will last for many years. As in other countries, destruction does not just take the form of physical damage to people and property, but also trauma and mental health problems. In Australia, as in the US, some top leaders have not accepted the judgement of scientists that climate change was a cause of the fires.

COVID-19 complicates emergency response

Responding to extreme weather events has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in countries like the US, India, Brazil, and the Philippines where the virus is still spreading. Not only has it made work more difficult for emergency personnel, but it has increased the risk for those who must be evacuated. Indoor shelters are often not large enough to be able to provide for social distancing.

Climate change and education

Climate change, like COVID-19, has “deniers”. Some challenge the scientific consensus and argue that climate change does not exist or that there is no connection with human activity. In some cases, that scepticism is encouraged by fossil fuel companies.

Education International General Secretary David Edwards said: “The massive wildfires on the west coast of the United States and other extreme climate events show that climate change is not just about the future. It is about the present. As California Governor Gavin Newsom said, ‘The debate is over on climate change; just come to the state of California’.

“Teachers must be free to teach the facts on climate change as on other issues. Teachers should never be expected to treat it as just one opinion, among others. As educators and as trade unionists, climate change is an urgent priority that is, by its nature, global. Irresponsible political leaders endanger their own citizens, but also all others who dwell on this planet. Education has a key role to play in ensuring that the facts of climate change are disseminated – and in ensuring the sustainability of our Earth.”