The Department of Education, in its draft version of the revised national curriculum, has dropped explicit mention of global climate change from the syllabus.
At the moment, the subject is covered in geography lessons, but the draft curriculum includes just a single mention, in chemistry, of how carbon dioxide from human activities affects Earth’s climate.
David Attenborough is not happy. Neither is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. They are among the 96 people who have put their signatures to a letter, published in the Sunday Times, calling on the government to make sure climate change is covered in depth in the new syllabus. They say that “today’s children are tomorrow’s custodians of nature”.
They make a good point. Having at least a passing knowledge of climate change is part of understanding the modern world. Increasingly, environmental considerations will affect society, economics, politics and even conflict.
Yet public acceptance of the veracity of climate change is at a record low. While 82% of people believe that climate change is real, one in five believe that natural processes are entirely or mainly the cause; this figure has doubled in the last four years.
Educating people about climate change does not mean indoctrinating them. That the global climate is changing is a statistically undeniable. Much of the underlying theory – for example, that carbon dioxide emissions enhance the natural greenhouse effect – is similarly robust and has actually been around for centuries. To teach this as scientific fact is no more indoctrinating than is explaining the ins and outs of the pH scale.
But that is not to say that everything is written in stone: far from it. Where there are uncertainties, they should be explained honestly and fully. Glossing over them has caused many problems in the past; moreover, it has been found that the public erroneously equates scientific uncertainty with common or garden ignorance. Education is one way of overcoming this.
Including climate change in the national curriculum would familiarise people with the scientific basis, and would hopefully go some way to enabling them to better understand and evaluate the core conclusions of climate science. It would also fulfill the fundamental objective of education: preparing people for life on planet Earth.