Developing a systems thinking approach when it comes to developing possible solutions to climate change

Frank Niepold


Few issues facing society are more urgent than reducing our vulnerability to climate impacts, preparing for the staggering transition to a low-carbon economy, and building resilient communities. Yet K-12 schools, higher education, and free-choice learning institutions are often not prepared or focused on building awareness and inspiring action to care for our communities and our planet. Through activation of nations and communities extensive education systems with comprehensive climate change education, communities can more quickly embrace a low-carbon future, inspire future leaders, showcase their cities’ adaptability, and create stronger communities.


The need for comprehensive, interdisciplinary climate change education is more important now than ever before. Since 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, has provided the world with an objective, scientific view of climate change and its political and economic impacts. On October 8, 2018, the IPCC released the most important climate report to date. This IPCC special report, Global Warming of 1.5° C, provides insight into the collective global greenhouse gas emission choices that led to a warming of 1.5° C or higher above pre-industrial levels and serves as an urgent call to rapidly transition our global communities to low-carbon economies. It is also the first international climate report to provide a viable way to reach the goals set forth in the landmark Paris Climate Agreement to combat climate change, and accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low-carbon future.

The Climate Science and Education stated in the 2009 "Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science guide for Individuals and Communities” (USGCRP, 2009) why climate is key scientific issue that students need to address in their learning; 


“To protect fragile ecosystems and to build sustainable communities that are resilient to climate change— including extreme weather and climate events—a climate-literate citizenry is essential. This climate science literacy guide identifies the essential principles and fundamental concepts that individuals and communities should understand about Earth’s climate system. Such understanding improves our ability to make decisions about activities that increase vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and to take precautionary steps in our lives and livelihoods that would reduce those vulnerabilities.”


The Climate Literacy Guide was used to create the climate related standards supporting the learning of more than three-quarters (84%) of U.S. students live in states that have education standards influenced by the Framework for K-12 Science Education and/or the Next Generation Science Standards.


To strengthen the learning related to climate change, we need to recognize and identify learning pathways that involves the complex, dynamic systems that demand a systems thinking approach when it comes to developing possible solutions. A systems thinking approach is increasingly recognized as a critical approach for education to address climate change. Climate change epitomizes a problem that demands a systems thinking and system dynamics approach: it is dynamic, complex, and crosses disciplines and societal sectors. Addressing the impacts and societal problems resulting from climate change requires an unprecedented level of integration and education across scientific, social science, civic/government, and humanities fields. Systems thinking offers an opportunity to integrate knowledge across disciplines and move society’s capabilities to rapidly transition to a low-carbon economy and address the impacts of climate change. 


climate change; literacy; systems thinking; solutions; education; climate change education

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