When it comes to climate change, much of the public discussion is focused on ways to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to keep global temperatures in check. One overlooked tool, however, could help humanity stave off the worst impacts of climate change and buy world governments more time: geoengineering, or the deliberate modification of the climate system.
“It’s just not really in the public consciousness,” said Ben Kravitz, an earth and atmospheric sciences professor at Indiana University. “That’s a problem if people are going to make a decision about whether or not we want to do this.”
To help address this awareness gap, Kravitz and postdoctoral fellow Paul Goddard are creating a five-lesson curriculum focused on climate change and geoengineering. The lessons adhere to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a new set of standards for K-12 classrooms widely adopted throughout the US. With funding from IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute and the Brabson Library and Educational Foundation, Kravitz and Goddard hope the lessons will allow more teachers to present the topic of geoengineering in classrooms.
“Teachers have so many demands on them. They’re overworked. They don’t have the time to sit down and think about topics they know really well, let alone entirely new ones,” Kravitz said. “The more we can hand them something like, ‘This is ready to go, try it out,’ the better.”
Kravitz has researched the deliberate temporary modification of the climate system for 15 years. The most studied geoengineering techniques include spraying sulfur into the atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of volcanoes or brightening clouds that lay low over the ocean to reflect more sunlight. Computer models and experiments show that both techniques could temporarily lower temperatures in parts of the world, but large-scale deployment comes with tradeoffs that researchers are still working to quantify.
With so much yet to be discovered, Kravitz and Goddard aim to encourage students to develop and sketch their own ideas about geoengineering and its potential to solve climate problems, both individually and in groups, through their curriculum. The lesson plan also includes a modified version of the “Cloud in a Bottle” experiment to demonstrate how cloud brightening works. Students then participate in a mock-United Nations meeting to debate whether to deploy geoengineering technologies. The curriculum culminates in a project where students take what they’ve learned and share their ideas about geoengineering with their local or state government.
The curriculum will include all five lesson plans—worksheets and slide presentations—and outside resources for teachers. Kravitz and Goddard also hope to loan needed materials for the “Cloud in a Bottle” experiment to teachers at no charge.
Last October, the pair presented their curriculum during an Educating for Environmental Change (EfEC) workshop for secondary teachers to learn about new science curriculum. According to Goddard, teacher feedback from the workshop focused on the complexity of the issue, prompting a shift in planning toward exploration and curiosity.
“We really push this idea of exploring geoengineering and understanding that there is no wrong answer, which leads students and teachers alike to novel ideas about what it could be,” Goddard said.
An updated version of the curriculum is being shared with K-12 science teachers for additional feedback during EfEC’s Summer Science Institute this June.
Goddard said his primary goal is to teach students that many skills are needed if we are going to address the problem of climate change.
“It’s going to take people of all walks of life and all career paths taking action to help resolve this multifaceted problem,” he said. “Geoengineering is a small part that could help. The earlier people realize that it’s going to take a collaborative effort, the better.”
About the Environmental Resilience Institute
Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute brings together a broad coalition of government, business, nonprofit, and community leaders to help Indiana and the Midwest better prepare for the challenges of environmental change. By integrating research, education, and community, ERI is working to create a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future. Learn more at eri.iu.edu.