North Carolina -- January 5, 2023: A new study from North Carolina State University
concludes that climate change-related content has been poorly integrated into biology textbooks.
Despite considerable breakthroughs in our understanding of how climate change impacts ecosystems and the environment, the majority of textbooks produced in the 2010s contained less information regarding climate change than those published in the previous decade, according to the study.
Jennifer Landin, an associate professor of biological sciences at NC State and the study's corresponding author, explains,In short, we found biology textbooks are failing to share adequate information about climate change, which is a generation-defining topic in the life sciences,” says Jennifer Landin, corresponding author of the study and an associate professor of biological sciences at NC State. “These books are the baseline texts for helping students understand the science of life on Earth, yet they are providing very little information about a phenomenon that is having a profound impact on habitats, ecosystems, agriculture – almost every aspect of life on Earth.”
For the study, researchers assessed 57 college biology textbooks released between 1970 and 2019 for their coverage of climate change. The researchers discovered that climate coverage has significantly changed during the past five decades.
Prior to 1990, the average number of climate change-related sentences in textbooks was less than 10. The median length of climate-related content in the 1990s was 30 sentences. In the 2000s, the median length of climate information increased to 52 words, which is not surprising considering the growing body of research on the effects of climate change. However, the researchers discovered that climate coverage in textbooks decreased in the 2010s, falling to an average of 45 phrases.
In addition to the increase in length, the nature of the content has also changed significantly over time. In the 1990s, actionable solutions to climate change accounted for more than 15 percent of all climate-related utterances. In recent decades, however, concrete solutions account for less than 3% of climate content.
“One of the most troubling findings was that textbooks are devoting substantially less space to addressing climate solutions now than they did in the 1990s – even as they focus more on the effects of climate change,” Landin says. “That suggests to students that nothing can be done, which is both wildly misleading and contributes to a sense of fatalism regarding climate change.”
In addition, climate change portions continue to be placed further and further back in books, from the final 15% of the overall text in the 1970s to the final 2.5% of the material in the 2010s.