The most illiterate regions of the world are often at the highest-risk to feel the impacts of climate change. Many do not have the education to feel empowered to change their situation. Just this year, rural areas in Africa, hardest hit by the strong El Nino forces, continue to face drought conditions, pushing people into cities looking for meager work and ‘easy’ money.
Today is International Literacy Day. The UNESCO theme this year is “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” It is meant to honor the past 50 years of national and international engagement, efforts and progress to increase literacy rates around the world. The day also looks forward to the future of literacy and calls for innovative solutions to boost literacy. The theme parallels the climate arena; the landmark Paris Agreement last year looks towards mitigating carbon emissions in the future based on historical emission for each nation.
With the reality of a changing climate, the need for comprehensive environmental and climate education has never been greater. But the goals to increase climate education cannot exist without literacy. Literacy empowers individuals and communities. It gives them access to knowledge beyond their everyday networks to read the newspaper, to go online to read articles, and to be part of an intellectual network. Individuals can make smart choices about recycling, composting, and sustainable actions that illiterate populations are not typically able to make.
Illiteracy confines people. This population does not have as many resources to make decisions about climate change and sustainability. In rural areas, it also limits the work opportunities available to communities and impedes their ability to migrate to new areas. Individuals must rely on the people around them and media outlets to interpret climate change and its data.
Earth Day Network’s goal starting in 2017 and continuing past our 50th anniversary in 2020 is to ensure that all students worldwide are environmentally and climate literate. Efforts to increase literacy around the world will also make climate literacy more accessible to all. Climate literacy in the next generation will ensure a foundation of knowledge and discourse as society faces how to best deal with a changing climate.
Earth Day Network applauds organizations that work to increase literacy. Not only are they giving individuals access to a wealth of information, but they are also paving a path to a better life. Society needs people who understand the climate system and know how to apply that knowledge in their careers and in their communities.