Most Parents Want Kids to Learn About Climate Change, but Most Schools Don't Teach It

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
In February, high school and university students staged a protest against the climate policies of the Belgian government. Alexandros Michailidis/

A new study paints a glaring divide between what parents want their kids to learn in school and what's actually being taught.

Even more troubling, it's a subject that affects parents, non-parents, teachers, kids, even birds and bees.

That would be climate change. And despite its undeniable impact on every citizen of this planet, it still doesn't have a place in the U.S. elementary school canon alongside algebra and grammar and geography.

Parents, regardless of political stripe, overwhelmingly want that to change.

In fact, according to a new poll conducted by NPR and Ipsos, more than 80 percent of parents are in favor of teaching of climate change in school.

Climate change doesn't appear to play politics either. The poll found two-thirds of Republicans and nine out of 10 Democrats agree that kids need to learn about it in school.

And it's not like teachers are standing in the way either. The same pollsters found support for the idea among educators at 86 percent. And yet, more than half the teachers surveyed claimed climate change isn't covered in the classrooms. Nor is it even discussed with students.

So what's the hold up?

Why are so many of America's schools ignoring a clear and present reality, especially when just about everyone else is calling for just the opposite? (NASA is doing its part to keep the climate science at the forefront and explain why it matters, as the video above explains.)

The NPR/Ipsos polls cited nearly two-thirds of teachers claiming that climate change is outside their subject area.

Parents, researchers found, were mum on the subject too. Just under half of parents surveyed have discussed the issue with their children.

"When it comes to one of the biggest global problems, the default message from older generations to younger ones is silence," NPR's Anya Kamenetz notes.

A boy stands under an umbrella in front of a chalkboard
Climate change can be a pretty heavy subject for kids. Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

It all seems to suggest the alarming possibility that climate change has found itself relegated as one of those sticky subjects that everyone hopes someone else will talk to their kids about.

But this isn't prickly, awkward sex ed.

More like a looming planet-wide catastrophe that will require the efforts of these children and their children to avert it.

You probably don't want to frame it quite like that when you broach the subject with your kids — but broach it you must.

National Geographic offers some non-scaring-the-bejesus-out-of-them approaches. A short video or two extolling the spectacular virtues of our planet would likely get their attention and remind them of what's at stake.

High school students demonstrate against global warming at a Fridays for Future demonstration on March 1, 2019 in Hamburg, Germany
High school students demonstrate against global warming at a Fridays for Future demonstration in March 2019 in Hamburg, Germany. Adam Berry/Getty Images

Depending on a kid's age, the actual mechanics of climate change may seem like a daunting proposition. Instead, as experts at the Rainforest Alliance suggest, keep it simple:

"You could use a houseplant to explain how plants ‘breathe in' the gases that we breathe out, and vice versa, in a mutually-beneficial cycle, the organization notes. "Understanding the basic carbon cycle is essential to understanding climate science."

Lost already? That's probably the first step. Make sure you're armed with the facts before you sit down with the kids.

From there NatGeo suggests nurturing a little youthful activism: Get the neighborhood on board. Start a petition. Make a game out of recycling or planting or curbing waste.

And just maybe those young activists will take that fight to their school and demand what everyone and their dog already knows: climate change needs to be a prominent part of the curriculum.