Climate Change Denial
This activity explores the phenomenon of climate change denial, what lies behind it and the dangers it presents. Students will also discuss what might be dont to confront climate change denial and create viable solutions for their local community.
Time Required: Stage 1- 60 minutes. Stage 2 & 3- 60-75 minutes. Stage 4- ongoing
Class members sitting in a circle are asked to think about times when they have worried
about something but put it ‘to the back of their minds’ or otherwise tried to forget about it or reduce its significance; things like going out to play ball the evening before a big exam when as they play they feel uncomfortable not to be studying, or going through the motions with a boyfriend or girlfriend when they no longer feel good about the relationship but aren’t prepared to face up to the fact by telling them, or behaving in one way when part of them is telling them they should be behaving in another but not confronting the problem. They recount examples they are prepared to share and the feelings they had. The teacher introduces the idea of denial; that in big things and small things people use mind games to evade reality and to protect themselves from facing up to things. The class is asked if they can identify in their examples different forms of denial and give each form a descriptor.
Students form groups of four. Each group receives a set of cards, chart paper, markers and a glue stick. They are asked to read and discuss the cards and determine the range of denial-related issues raised by each card and by the set of cards taken as a whole. Their task is to arrange the cards on the chart paper, demonstrate connections and parallels between the cards by drawing one or two-way arrows, and write commentaries exploring issues raised and explaining the nature of their arrangement. During the work group members take time out to write on blank cards their own personal examples relating to or mirroring the examples in the card set. They do not share these at this stage. Each group presents, the teacher encouraging feedback and discussion of what is said. At an appropriate point towards the end of group-generated discussion, the teacher reveals the following explanations:
- Climate change denial is the term used to describe attempts to downplay the extent of global warming, its significance, or its connection to human behavior, especially for financial interests, but also to protect individuals from facing the future and facing up to changes they would need to make in their behaviors to slow or limit climate change.
- Cognitive dissonance, a term used in social psychology, describes an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas or behaving in two contradictory ways simultaneously, or when we know -but won’t acknowledge -that what we are saying or how we are behaving is contradicted by evidence and our own opinions yetstill resist amending what we say or do.
Then the teacher asks questions. For instance:
- Do you see denial in the different cards and, if so, what forms does it take?
- Do you see examples of cognitive dissonance lurking behind or within what is written in the cards?
- Do you see any big ideas in any of the cards that would help explain denial and cognitive dissonance?
- Do you see any big ideas in any of the cards that would suggest how to deal with denial and cognitive dissonance?
- What examples of denial do you find most shocking?
- Should we distinguish climate change denial from climate change ignorance?
- Does denial of climate change add to the magnitude of the threat the planet faces?
- How should climate change denial best be faced up to?
Throughout the discussion following each question, students are encouraged to share examples of their personal climate change denial as they have written them up on the blank cards.
Students are asked, ahead of the next class, to each conduct a brief three-question interview with five adult members of their community:
- How serious do you think climate change is?
- What are you doing personally to stop climate change?
- Is there anything more you think you should be doing?
During the second activity session, groups re-form and students analyze their twenty interview responses using the concepts of denial and cognitive dissonance. They are specifically asked to identify different types of denial. Each group reports on its findings. Class discussion follows.
A Climate Change Denial pin board is made available in the classroom. Students are invited to bring examples of climate change denial they find in newspapers, magazines, and on the web, and pin them on the board with their own note of explanation. The class reviews the board occasionally.
Chart paper, markers, glue-stick, climate change denial pin board, cut-up set of cards.
Resource Type:Lesson Plan
Subject(s):Behavioral Studies, Environmental Studies, Biology, Earth Science, Environmental Science,
Topic:Air, Atmosphere and Climate, Science and Technology, Taking Action,
Level:Intermediate / MiddleSecondary
Grade: 7 8 9 10 11 12
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