Teaching Climate Social Science and Its Practices: A Two-Pronged Approach to Climate Literacy 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:45 AM
Rachael Shwom1, Cynthia Isenhour2, Aaron McCright3, Jennifer Robinson4 and Rebecca Jordan1, (1)Rutgers University New Brunswick, New Brunswick, NJ, United States, (2)University of Maine, Anthropology, Orono, ME, United States, (3)Michigan State University, Sociology, East Lansing, MI, United States, (4)Indiana University Bloomington, Communications and Culture, Bloomington, IN, United States
The Essential Principles of Climate Science Literacy states that a climate-literate individual can: “understand the essential principles of Earth’s climate system, assess scientifically credible information about climate change, communicate about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.” We argue that further integration of the social science dimensions of climate change will advance the climate literacy goals of communication and responsible actions. The underlying rationale for this argues: 1) teaching the habits of mind and scientific practices that have synergies across the social and natural sciences can strengthen students ability to understand and assess science in general and that 2) understanding the empirical research on the social, political, and economic processes (including climate science itself) that are part of the climate system is an important step for enabling effective action and communication. For example, while climate literacy has often identified the public’s faulty mental models of climate processes as a partial explanation of complacency, emerging research suggests that the public’s mental models of the social world are equally or more important in leading to informed and responsible climate decisions. Building student’s ability to think across the social and natural sciences by understanding “how we know what we know” through the sciences and a scientific understanding of the social world allows us to achieve climate literacy goals more systematically and completely. To enable this integration we first identify the robust social science insights for the climate science literacy principles that involve social systems. We then briefly identify significant social science contributions to climate science literacy that do not clearly fit within the seven climate literacy principles but arguably could advance climate literacy goals. We conclude with suggestions on how the identified social science insights could be integrated into climate literacy efforts.