PHOENIX — Is climate change too controversial for standard college courses? According to a a new study examining commonly-used college science textbooks, less than two percent of textbook pages discuss climate change or related aspects of it.
Rachel Yoho, a former Arizona State University graduate student (now a researcher at the University of Miami, Ohio), surveyed the leading textbooks used in college biology, chemistry, and physics courses and found a shocking void of information when it came to climate change.
Yoho originally was studying ways to produce sources of renewable energy. But as her research work progressed, so did her interest in how climate change concepts were being taught.
“Within the educational environment, I wanted to see how different disciplines approach topics, and so, we looked at the terminology and content of textbooks, which are likely the most well-established and well-respected first or second stops for information in undergraduate education,” she says in a media release.
Focusing on introductory textbooks, Yoho and her team examined more than 15,000 pages of material from the current editions of 16 leading physics, biology, and chemistry textbooks being used in undergraduate introductory classes today.
Overall, less than four percent of the pages were devoted to climate change, global warming, related environmental issues, and possible renewable energy implications. Biology books had the most material dedicated to climate change. Chemistry books had the widest variance between themselves, and physics books had the least dedicated to the topic, with an average of only 0.5 percent of their pages devoted to it.
“The terms we included were not just limited to a keyword search, but also involved going page by page through each of the textbooks. We looked for related topics like any applications and discoveries related to fossil fuels, and renewable energy technologies like wind and solar,” said Yoho.
Topics surrounding nuclear energy were also poorly represented, with less than 1 percent of content about the subject found within the studied textbook pages.
Yoho suggests that professors and textbook manufacturers alike consider ways to bring pieces of climate change into the classroom in a broader way for students.
“It’s a difficult balance in an introductory course. There’s so much information to cover in a short time. However, our students are facing these issues inside and outside of the classrooms. Our communities feel the impacts of our energy decisions and climate,” she says. “A next step might be to focus on the terms and content we discuss, as well as the potential role of these topics in introductory education.”
The full study was published online April 29, 2018 in the journal Environmental Communication.