Laws requiring climate change content in K-12 education follow push from colleges

Some states are now codifying the climate change content into elementary and high school education through legislative mandate.

A bill introduced in California would require the K-12 curriculum 'to emphasize the causes and effects of climate change as soon as possible.'

While nods to the climate change agenda have been creeping into curricula for years, becoming increasingly commonplace in American K-12 classrooms, some states are now codifying the topic into elementary and high school education through legislative mandate.

New Jersey’s new educational standards, passed in 2020, require climate change content to be integrated into K-12 classrooms– at all grade levels and in seemingly unrelated subjects like physical education and art. New Jersey was the first state to pass such standards, but other states are following suit, as recently highlighted by Edutopia.

Connecticut passed similar standards in July. 

A bill introduced in California would require the K-12 curriculum “to emphasize the causes and effects of climate change as soon as possible,” and eventually require that mandated high school science courses “include material on the causes and effects of climate change.”

[RELATED: Leo DiCaprio teams up with UCLA to train kids as young as 4 to be ‘climate warriors’]

New York could soon institute requirements for a “climate change and sustainability curriculum” in all grade levels and an initiative to adjust ”social studies, economics, geography, and government classes” to include climate change material.

The push to integrate climate change-oriented education for K-12 students often comes from institutions of higher education.

In July, Campus Reform reported that actor Leonardo DiCaprio has teamed up with UCLA to create an education program to turn children as young as 4 into “climate warriors.”

The program is a project of UCLA Lab School, a laboratory elementary school for children aged 4-12. 

The Lab School’s new Climate Justice Education Program will “demonstrate an important part of a new ‘green school’ model, which will inform the development of similar programs at schools locally, nationally, and globally.”

The intentional integration of climate change in curricula has already been underway within colleges and universities themselves for years.

The University of Florida Office of Sustainability advertises 306 courses in varied subjects and programs that are either “sustainability focused” or “sustainability related.” Courses featured on the list include courses titled “Social Entrepreneurship,” “Environmental Journalism,” “Spirituality and Creativity,” and “Health Decision Making.”

The University of California San Diego is divided into seven unique “colleges” with independent academic missions. The newest of these is currently called “Seventh College.” Its theme is “A Changing Planet,” which the school says encompasses a range of “global issues”– Like the “climate crisis” and “mass migration.”

The undergraduate synthesis program for Seventh College is a series of courses on topics like the ”climate crisis and intersectional issues” and “anti-racism,” as well as traditional concepts like “teamwork,” “critical thinking,” and “communication.”

[RELATED: Arizona State’s new ‘Ocean Futures’ course focuses on climate change, ‘anti-racist practices’]

In recent years, universities have actively and intentionally reshaped curricula and added programs to offer climate and sustainability-related education.

The University of South Florida offers a graduate certificate in Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, for example.

Via its “Fast Forward Action Plan,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is seeking to “strengthen climate- and sustainability-related education at the Institute, from curricular offerings to experiential learning opportunities and beyond.”

The University of Florida held its 8th annual Communications Summit on Climate Change in April, focusing on ways to tackle “climate denial” and climate change “misinformation” on social media.