Along with scientific and technical open questions, climate change presents unique epistemological, sociological, psychological, and ethical challenges, including climate justice. These are reflected in the education sector as well, manifesting as roadblocks and barriers at both the macro level and in the microcosm of the classroom. The failure of the education sector to take on the climate challenge is deeply problematic, since effective climate education can be a crucial component of climate mitigation. This chapter presents a re-conceptualization of the climate crisis at the intersection of science, society, ethics, justice, economics, philosophy and history of science that seeks to overcome the above-mentioned barriers. Drawing from a close study of the implementation of this framework in an undergraduate physics classroom for non-science majors over nearly a decade, I articulate four dimensions of an effective pedagogy of climate change: the scientific-technological, the transdisciplinary, the epistemological and the psycho-social. Three transdisciplinary “meta-concepts” constitute the foundation of this approach, utilized in the classroom via repeated use of visual tools. Student responses indicate that this still-developing framework has promise in the classroom and beyond.
A transformative approach to addressing complex social-environmental problems warrants reexamining our most fundamental assumptions about sustainability and progress, including the entrenched imperative for limitless economic growth. Our global resource footprint has grown in lockstep with GDP since the industrial revolution, spawning the climate and ecological crises. Faith that technology will eventually decouple resource use from GDP growth is pervasive, despite there being practically no empirical evidence of decoupling in any country. We argue that complete long-term decoupling is, in fact, well-nigh impossible for fundamental physical, mathematical, logical, pragmatic, and behavioral reasons. We suggest that a crucial first step toward a transformative education is to acknowledge this incompatibility, and to provide examples of where, and how, our arguments may be incorporated in education. More broadly, we propose that foregrounding SDG 12 with a functional definition of sustainability, and educating and upskilling students to this end, must be a necessary minimum goal of any transformative approach to sustainability education. Our aim is to provide a conceptual scaffolding around which learning frameworks may be developed to make room for diverse alternative paths to truly sustainable social-ecological cultures.