Infusing Climate Change Issues in Biological Sciences : An Environmental Education Approach
We are on a struggle. Struggle to survive and to prosper. And one of the greatest struggles the human race has ever faced is that, which concerns our only one planet where we live – the fight against climate change. Most scientists regard anthropogenic (human-caused) global climate change to be the most important environmental issue of our times. evidences gathered by the scientists around the world suggest that global climate is already changing as a result of human actions. They found out that in the past century, precipitation has increased by about 1 percent over the world’s continents. High altitudes are expected to see more rainfall, while in some tropical areas precipitation has actually declined. Apparently, warmer temperatures are causing more water evaporation. We are expecting this to produce more severe rainstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons and even floods. In 2003 at least 30, 000 people died in Europe’s hottest summer since 1540. Climate models given by the scientists show those temperature extremes like this will become increasingly common by the end of this century if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced. Over the past 200 years, atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4, and N2O have increased by over 31 percent. Carbon dioxide is the most important cause of anthropogenic climate change. Burning fossil fuels, making cement, clearing forests and other human activities release nearly 30 billion tons of CO2 every year containing 8 billion tons of carbon. About 3 billion tons of this excess carbon is taken up by terrestrial ecosystems, and around 2 billion tons are being absorbed by the oceans thus leaving an annual atmospheric increase of some 3 billion tons of carbon per year. In Metro Manila alone, excessive carbon emissions are virtually evident. On day time, try to stand in at least 5th floor building; you’ll have some view of how unclear the atmosphere is, and how dusty the air you breathe is. On nighttime, try to look at the velvety sky, and the stars you can see are already limited. You can not anymore see those which must appear smaller unlike when you view it in the rural areas which has better atmospheric conditions. If current trends continue, climatologists warn that by year 2100, mean global temperatures will probably warm between 1.50 C and 60C (2.70 and 110 F).
Global Climate Change
Global climate change is already affecting a wide variety of biological species. Many wild plant and animal species are being forced out of their current ranges as the climate warms. Likewise, coral reefs are bleaching because of higher water temperatures. British scientists warned that by 2050, even the lowest estimates of potential climate change suggest that 1 million species could be driven into extinction. If migration to more suitable habitat is blocked through fragmentation, more than half of all tropical species might be eliminated.
Satellite images show that the Arctic sea ice is 40 percent thinner now and the Antarctic Ice Sheet has shrunk 25 percent over the past 25 years, including some of the giant icebergs. Alpine glaciers everywhere are retreating rapidly. Over the next 50 years, at least half of all alpine glaciers in the world could disappear. Without these glaciers, agriculture, industry, power generation and drinking water supplies will suffer. In the past century, sea level has risen approximately 15-20 cm (6-8 in) worldwide. About one-quarter of this increase is caused by the melting of alpine glaciers and half is due to thermal expansion of ocean water.
Do we have something to do to alleviate this problem considering that we are too small? One song says, “tuldok ka lang sa mundo”. But no matter how tiny as a dot we are, we can scribe a difference, we can touch the world.
Recognizing the need to address climate change, and anticipating its effects on people’s life, we as educators need to make substantial contributions to the alleviation of environmental problems by making the students environmentally literate and responsible as regards causes and effects of global warming and climate change.
How can we motivate students to take concrete steps on how to stop climate change towards promoting sustainable action? Even if there is a commitment to provide environmental education in general and biology in particular as a saving grace, the question remains; how should ecological concepts in biology be taught to students? Biological sciences offer excellent opportunities to teach ecological concepts. Similarly, environmental issues with direct biological implications could be logically dealt with, like global warming, climate change, endangered species, population control and others. Environmental Education (EE) is seen to be the development of understanding about our environment; positive attitudes towards the earth and its life; and confidence and skills to make positive changes. However, a key determinant of student achievement is the quality of teaching. To be effective, infusion of environmental education concepts in any subjects so to speak, requires strategies and learning experiences that are planned, focused, experiential, participatory, anticipatory, and cumulative. All students must have access to learning about the environment. The knowledge and concepts base must include the students’ ability to demonstrate an understanding of the ecological processes that support life on our planet, man’s interaction with the ecological processes and an understanding of the effects and the likely implications of change. Likewise, the students should be taught how to recognize the causes and effects of environmental issues make responsible decisions about the environment and take personal action to ensure an ecologically sustainable future and to take collective action to ensure an ecologically sustainable future.
Biological sciences offer excellent opportunity to teach ecological concepts. Since only few students are taking course in ecology, the general biology courses become a practicable choice for teaching basic ecological principles. Correspondingly, environmental issues with direct biological implications could be logically dealt with like endangered species, population control, global warming, climate change, waste disposal and others. Specific laboratory strategies could also be taught which have direct application to environmental concerns like in testing for biological oxygen demand, testing for nitrates and other nutrients in water resources.
Participatory Learning Strategy
Students learn best by being interested fully in their own work, by seeing themselves, doing themselves, by puzzling themselves, and by making experiments. (Elsgest, 1987) This new pedagogic concept should be participatory, that is, students should be allowed to work towards liberation from all forms of repression, inside and outside of classroom, through social interaction, togetherness, and action-oriented communication. This approach should be anticipatory – it should help students achieve a creative approach to future problems of mankind, climate change in particular. (Bayer, et al (1980),)
Participatory learning is a group learning approach where the students are allowed to take an active part in the learning process in which they have a maximum measure of freedom and self-determination. The students are allowed to attend personal meetings, enjoy interactions and have acquaintances among them, and between others and teachers, and times and space for turning the acquaintances with people and things into experiences.
Participatory learning strategy has its place in the Group Investigation Models of Learning. It is the instructional utilization of small groups of 3 – 8 members in which learners are allowed to work together to accomplish a common goal and to maximize their own and each other’s learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1994, 1999; Ajitoni, 2005). Participatory learning strategy as a philosophy of learning has its theoretical or speculative basis in the behaviorists; the cognitive theorist, the constructivist, and the social leaning theorists’ views of learning.
According to Kohle (1982) participatory learning strategy provides more than enough chances for four stages of adult learning: concrete experience, followed by reflection on that experience on a personal basis; next comes abstract conceptualization which is the derivation of general rules describing the experience, or the application of known theories to it, and therefore to active experimentation, the construction of ways of modifying the next occurrence of the experience leading in turn to the next concrete experience.
Grouping and Group Size
The improvement of developed, participatory, experiential active and creative learning is binded with three environmental conditions, which should be satisfied in the classroom. These are: (a) a maximum measure of freedom and self-determination, (b.) time and peace for turning the acquaintance with people and things into experiences, and (c) the chance of personal meetings among the students and between students and teachers. Grouping of students emphasizes active participation on the part of learners. Participation in small group discussion may help some students learn and remember (Muyanda – Mutebi and Yiga-Matovu, 1993). Williamson (1990) observed that group activity fosters personal involvement, encourages cooperation and sensitivity among the participants, and may help to clarify knowledge and values. In addition, there is a growth in students’ cognitive outcomes freedom for the students to learn, a freeing of teachers’ time to assist weaker students, and improved social and ethnic relations. Groups provide a vehicle whereby learners can seek to influence decisions which affect them directly. In grouping, each individual has a unique and important role to play. In the dynamics of group learning, Thelen (1984) suggested about 10 to 15 students. The argument is that the number is large enough for diversity of reactions and small enough for individual participation. If the group is too large, it will be difficult to provide an opportunity for every student to participate during each class and will not enable the group to relate productively. If the group is too small in size, the diversity in the group will not provide sufficient ways of viewing a situation and will not contain enough potential among its members for finding the right solution.
Previous studies done by educational researchers, academicians and educators suggest that encouraging participation in environmental activities is a promising technique for improving students’ environmental knowledge, particularly on the issues on climate change and global warming.
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