Skip to content

How can we weather climate change? Invest in youth environmental education

A USQ Professor is advocating for earlier education for our youth to help combat climate change.

Nurturing a new generation of green thinkers and innovators through education is our best weapon against climate change, according to experts, including University of Southern Queensland’s Professor Jo-Anne Ferreira.

In a recent Environmental Education Research article, Professor Ferreira and her colleagues argued greater investment and innovation in educating children and communities about environment issues was needed to help future generations prepare and respond effectively to climate threats.

Co-authored with Professor Alan Reid from Monash University, Professor Justin Dillon from the University of Exeter and Professor Nicole Ardoin from Stanford University, Professor Ferreira warned the deepening environmental crisis would continue to worsen if there was no significant reforms and support in environmental and sustainability education.

“Climate change is not just a scientific problem, it’s a social problem,” she said.

“The biggest challenge is how do we shift this issue from something scientists are saying needs to be addressed to something the community as a whole acts on?

“In many ways, industry is leading the way when it comes to taking action because they see how climate change impacts their bottom line, but we don’t see the change happening across the board.

“We identified that education is a key strategy to drive behavioural changes and create a collective commitment to climate action.”

The researchers highlighted international surveys that show many governments continue to fail to support and invest enough in environmental and sustainability education across pre-school, school, college and university settings.

Professor Ferreira said innovative educational approaches that respond to consistent warnings about environmental problems and trends could empower youth to make more informed decisions and take action.

“We need to ensure that current and future generations have access to environmental education that is relevant and responsive to the ongoing and emerging issues that contribute to climate change, and that they can distinguish between fake information and facts,” she said.

“Enhancing students’ environmental knowledge and attitudes is important, but how do we ensure schools are providing our youth with a skill set that will give them the ability to cope with whatever the future holds?

“If the climate scientists are correct and we have rapid climate change events, skills such as collaboration, decision-making and problem-solving will be critical because the world will need people to be very versatile, adaptable, resilient and creative in their responses.”

Professor Ferreira said that consensus on the world’s current environmental predicaments must also be supported by those in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, and wider society.

“The Australian curriculum already has a cross-curriculum priority of sustainability, but we don’t see a lot of integration of these ideas and concerns across the curriculum,” she said.

“Governments and the United Nations are always coming out with these statements about what needs to happen to address climate change, but unless we see that change occur at the grassroots, all these calls will fall on deaf ears.

“We have to be working with teachers around their curriculum and in communities so families accept and see the importance of environmental and sustainability issues, and don’t pushback against teachers on why they are teaching their children this."

The article, ‘Scientists’ warnings and the need to reimagine, recreate, and restore environmental education’ can be read here.

woman smiling at table
Professor Jo-Anne Ferreira.