Millennials are concerned about climate change, but American schools are conflicted on how to teach it.
Nearly half of the more than 31,000 survey participants, who were ages 18 to 35 in 186 countries, chose climate change as their top concern, and 78.1% said they would be willing to change their lifestyle to protect the environment.
In the US, an even greater 55% of respondents were most concerned by climate change. That finding came even as the US lacks a standardized system for teaching the science behind the issue.
Public K-12 education standards in the US are set at the state level, meaning the country could have as many as 50 different sets of standards for learning. That allows subjects that are politically polarizing in particular, like climate change, to be taught differently in different states.
In American science education, "the two topics that arouse the most discontent and controversy are climate change and evolution," Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, told Business Insider.
So far, 19 states and the District of Columbia have signed up to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of goals that unequivocally link human activities to climate change.
"Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth's mean surface temperature (global warming)," one of the disciplinary core ideas in the NGSS says. "Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.”
While Branch called the NGSS the "gold standard" in science learning, he acknowledged that some other states still had strong science standards related to climate change, pointing to Massachusetts as one example.
But for many others, the handling of climate change is much more nuanced. Some mention climate change but don't link human activities to its rise, others do not mention climate change at all, and still others may soon include language about climate-change denial.
Texas, for example, introduced a bill referencing teachers' academic freedom in teaching science standards, which some experts say would allow for climate-change denial and therefore undermine science education.