How Americans think about climate change

A recent New York Times article caught my eye: "How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps."

Like much of the Times's great data journalism, the article is full of easy-to-read maps that reflect polling on climate change issues. This map stood out to me:

Map: Most people think that climate change will harm Americans, but they don't think it will happen to them.

This pair of maps seems to show that Americans are generally aware of the risks that global warming poses but don't connect this abstract risk to their own lives. As the authors of the piece write,

Global warming is precisely the kind of threat humans are awful at dealing with: a problem with enormous consequences over the long term, but little that is sharply visible on a personal level in the short term.

I notice this when I talk to my third graders about climate change. They know a surprising amount about the topic from a scientific perspective. They connect it to what they know about other organisms and ecosystems. They do not talk about how it might affect them personally.

Of course, they're only eight or nine years old. I hardly expect them to grapple with the "uncanny" scale of climate change without adult support. Grappling with it, though, is important. The ways in which climate change and instability affect daily life will grow more and more apparent in the coming decades. Education should recognize this and prepare our next generation to live in a dramatically changing world.

So how can adults help young children begin to see climate change as both a global and a personal issue? Perhaps our climate curriculum needs to focus primarily on close-to-home issues. In New York, for example, let's not focus on melting sea ice or loss of biodiversity — both hugely important issues, of course — but let's find a starting point that children can relate to. What would that be? I don't know yet. That's a question for another day…

Cover image: John Constable - Seascape Study with Rain Cloud