Human Rights and the Climate Crisis: Climate Change Education

The STF Team has curated resources to help students and teachers advance climate change education at their schools. STF defines climate change education as the inclusion of climate crisis discussions, information, activities and/or teaching across all subject areas. The best way to fight the human rights impacts of the climate crisis is to make sure everyone is educated about them. If you are a student or teacher interested in getting more resources or creating a climate crisis unit for your class, contact Student Task Force Liaison, Jordan Todd (M.A. Education, Licensed California Single-Subject Social Science Teacher).

For Students

These student activities are designed to be led by students for campus and community education efforts in and outside the classroom. These activities empower students to take action and educate the next generation of decision-makers, building a movement of advocates fighting for human rights.

For Teachers

Teachers can use these lesson plans to embed climate change education in high school (ages 14-18) classrooms across subject areas. They are a starting point and can be used as one-time lessons or part of a climate crisis unit. There are also recommendations for embedding human rights in lessons plans and activities.

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Tell Us: Is Climate Change Education Happening At Your School?

The Human Rights Watch Student Task Force is conducting a curriculum audit to find out what course materials are currently taught at your school related to the climate crisis. Our goal is to promote human rights-focused curriculum that gives students a tangible connection to the scientific, social, historical, and literary lenses of climate change as it affects the life and well-being of humanity.

Climate Change Education: The Human Rights Lens

The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time and we are at a monumental moment. If governments fail to take aggressive and targeted action to fight climate change, people’s human rights, including to life, education, health, food, and water, will suffer catastrophically. The best way to fight the human rights impacts of the climate crisis is to make sure everyone is educated about them.

Here are some ways to embed a human rights lens into these (and other) lessons and activities related to climate change include:

  • When in doubt, refer back to the simple version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to get specific examples of which human rights are affected (or will be affected) by climate change.
    • Example: Everyone has the right to an education. This human right can be easily discussed and integrated in every subject area!
    • Example: You have the right to think and voice your opinions freely. This human right can be emphasized in group activities, Socratic seminar discussions, asking students to show their work in math problems, teaching the scientific method, etc.
  • Look for the human impact of the environmental issue.
    • Example: Ice caps melting leads to sea-levels rising which causes displacement, lack of access to education in areas with insufficient infrastructure, lack of access to health care, etc.
    • Example: Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest impacts sacred lands of indigenous peoples.
  • Consider intersectionality and how climate change might be part of a more complex story
    • Example: Migrants from Central America travel north through Mexico to flee gang violence, corruption, lack of opportunity, and increased droughts, natural disasters, heat waves, etc. Such environmental factors lead to food insecurity, immigration discord, and exacerbate existing political and social challenges.
  • If using data, reference the groups that might be excluded from the set OR use data sets of groups experiencing human rights violations (refugees, children in poverty, indigenous and minority populations, etc.)

Student Activities

Climate Change Education Survey: Share what kind of climate change education you have received at your school.

To help address educational gaps on your campus, use these activities as one-time discussions or educational tools in chapter meetings, classroom presentations, meetings with teachers, stakeholders, and more. Teachers can also use them as lesson plans in English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Advisory, and more. They don’t need to be completed in a particular order. They’re designed to take 10-15 minutes but can be adjusted for time. Anyone can lead these activities, you don’t have to be an expert in the topics!

General Climate Change Activities

These general climate change activities explore: What is climate change? What is causing climate change? What are the impacts of climate change? What are climate change myths? Use in chapter meetings, classroom presentations, meetings with teachers, stakeholders and more.

Renewable Energy Activities

These renewable energy activities explore the questions: What are fossil fuels and why should we stop using them? What is renewable energy? Why solar energy? They can be used in chapter meetings, classroom presentations, meetings with teachers, stakeholders and more.

Environmental Justice Activities

These environmental justice activities explore definitions of environmental justice, stories of climate migration and health impacts of Los Angeles oil drilling. They can be used in chapter meetings, classroom presentations, meetings with teachers, stakeholders and more.

Ready to take action? Check out these resources to help you transition your school to 100% renewable energy.

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Educator’s Portal – Lesson Plans

Climate Change Education Survey: Help us understand how climate change is included in curriculum on your campus.

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Renewable Energy Revamp

In this science lesson, students will be challenged with an optimization problem. A fictional town decided to replace coal with more sustainable energy sources. Students will create an optimal renewable energy plan that meets specific constraints and criteria.

Subjects: Math, Science

Grades: 9-10

CA Environmental Justice

In this short unit, students will explore environmental decision-making, definitions of environmental justice and environmental racism, how communities fight for environmental justice, and what environmental justice can look like in everyday life.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Science, Social Sciences

Grades: 9-12

Trigonometry & Rising Seas

This lesson plan will enable students to apply simple trigonometric functions to understand how global warming is causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt and sea levels to rise. Students will discover how much land will be inundated within the next decade due to sea levels rising.

Subject: Math

Grades: 9-12

Poverty & Climate

This lesson plan includes reading resources to teach students about poverty, how it is exacerbated by climate change and the measures needed to manage it.

Subjects: Economics, English Language Arts, Social Studies (readings available in English, Spanish, French, Russian, and Arabic)

Grades: 9-12

Climate Crisis Mixer

Through role play, students are introduced to 22 individuals, each of whom is affected differently by climate change. Students meet one another in character, learn about the impact of climate change in their lives, how they are responding, and share their reflections and notes in their worksheet.

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts

Grades: 9-12

Renewable Energy Now

Students view two documentary film excerpts outlining the impacts of solar energy technologies in urban China and rural Zambia. Students will discuss the climate crisis beyond the science classroom and explore its social, economic, and human impacts.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Film/Video Arts, Music, Physical Sciences, Environmental Studies, Global Studies, Economics

Grades: 8-12

Film: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

As the drought and resulting famine in Malawi continue, young William Kamkwamba and his family come close to starvation. This true story shows how Williams’s resourcefulness provided a solution for his family and his village: a wind turbine to bring water to the fields.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Environmental Science, Social Studies, Film Studies

Grades: 9-12

Huracán María

In this lesson, Spanish language students will analyze three short excerpts of online newspaper articles about the economic impacts on Florida resulting from the influx of Puerto Rican climate refugees following Hurricane Maria. Lesson Objectives are available for various subjects and focus areas, making it easily adaptable to existing unit plans.

Subjects: Spanish Language

Grades: 9-12

Documentary: River of Gold

This documentary chronicles the clandestine journey of two war journalists and their guide into Peru’s Amazon rainforest to uncover the savage destruction of pristine jungle in pursuit of illegally mined gold. The film makes clear the consequences of this devastation on a global scale. Magnificent photography of plants, animals, and people inspires audiences to engage in solutions to protect the Amazon.

Watch the movie trailer, 2:59

Curriculum guides available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Science, Social Science

Grades: 6-12

Energy and Climate Change

In this lesson students will explore the connection between climate change and our energy consumption. Students will:

  • Learn about the causes and impacts of climate change;
  • Understand the link between Global Goals 7 and Global Goals 13;
  • Learn to distinguish between human and naturally induced Greenhouse Gas Emissions;
  • Identify the regions of the world that emit the most greenhouse gases.

Subjects: Geography, Math, Social Science

Grades: 8-12

Analyzing Environmental Justice

See how pollution disproportionately affects people experiencing poverty and members of racial and ethnic minorities. Explore reasons why people experiencing poverty and members of racial and ethnic minorities are often exposed to more pollution than others. Define environmental justice. Use a map to locate environmental injustice. Read graphs to learn about environmental discrimination. Think about solutions to environmental discrimination.

Subjects: English Language Arts, Math, Social Science

Grades: 6-12

CYHU: Educators for the Environment

Can You Hear Us? (CYHU) is an impact organization for the documentary I AM GRETA, working to amplify local climate action efforts to save our planet. This Educator’s Toolkit includes practical tips on creating a more sustainable classroom; Simple questions to ask students to encourage climate literacy; Films to screen in the classroom; Book recommendations to get the conversation started; Additional links and resources for educators.

Watch the I AM GRETA documentary trailer, 2:00

Subjects: Grades K-5 Multi-subject, Grades 6-12 ELA, Social Science

Grades K-12

Contact the STF Team if you would like additional resources or can help us curate our teacher’s portal to your needs.

Photo credits: Sea Choi (page banner), Miguel Kubota (Student Activities), Brennie Dale (Teacher Resources), Karina Duarte (Get Educated, Additional Educational Resources), Pixlr (Fast Facts), New York Times (Carbon Footprint), NRDC (In California), Drawing Now (Renewable Energy Revamp, Educator’s Portal), UC Berkeley (CA Environmental Justice, Educator’s Portal), University of Maine (Trigonometry & Sea Level Rise, Educator’s Portal), Camila Perkina (Poverty & Climate, Educator’s Portal), Can You Hear Us (Additional Educational Resources, Educator’s Portal), Youth4Climate Strike Philippines (Educator’s Portal)

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