Climate literacy—sometimes called “climate change literacy”—does not have a widely accepted definition yet. The notion of climate literacy was first used by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in 2006 as a synonym for “climate science literacy,” i.e. “an understanding of your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society.” The concept of climate science literacy received more extensive treatment in NOAA’s 2009 brochure “Climate Literacy: the Essential Principles of Climate Science.” However, for scholars in the environmental humanities, climate science literacy—or, understanding the science behind climate change—is not exactly the same as climate literacy—or, understanding our entanglements with, responsibilities in, and agency in regard to climate change. Climate literacy, Hiser and Lynch argue, is a wider concept involving not just “various disciplinary lenses” but the kind of knowing that is “emotionally charged and intimately connected to one’s worldview and paradigms of time, space, and nature” (98).
As proposed by Oziewicz (2023), climate literacy refers to “an understanding of the climate emergency—its facts, drivers, impacts, and urgency—that centers on developing values, attitudes, and behavioral change aligned with how we should live to safeguard the Earth’s integrity in the present and for future generations” (p.44). This framing of climate literacy as an integrated and multidisciplinary competence centers two forms of knowledge: the awareness that the present moment offers us a narrow window for transformative action that can usher in an ecological civilization (see hope and rapture ideologies); and an understanding of how climate change today is driven by human activity in general and the ecocidal operations of neoliberal capitalism in particular (see Capitalocene). The direct relationship between neoliberalism and climate change—explored, among others, in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014), Klein’s The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019), and Michael Mann’s The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back the Planet (2021)—is a fundamental component of climate literacy.
©2023 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)
“Homo Sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it’s … eas[y] for us to imagine we’re the pinnacle of creation, separated from the rest of the animal kingdom by an unbridgeable chasm”