Experiences of a Natural Disaster as a Catalyst for Climate Awareness


Can the experience of a natural disaster such as the recent Colorado flood help individuals to confront the risks associated with climate change? Can dramatic experiences initiate a major learning experience or even a life transition? Based on the literature of sustainable education, levels of learning and transformative learning, a powerful disorienting experience can be (and often is necessary as) a catalyst for deep, transformative learning. For these reasons, natural disasters are an excellent opportunity to reflect on the risks we are taking as a civilization – and consider what we can do about about these risks.

As a new resident in Boulder Colorado, it is obvious to me that this is a city with a high concentration of environmentalists (since many environmental and scientific research organizations are located here). If any US city is especially able to use a natural disaster as a means of generating climate awareness and action – Boulder is it. The point of climate literacy must ultimately be to go beyond ‘knowing’ about climate change in as an intellectual proposition – to developing strong and deep enough knowledge that will supports new capacities to do something with this knowledge.

Flood-posterI recently wrote about the Colorado flood and I promised to post a second blog on how we disaster events can be a catalyst for climate awareness and action. This is it. But one of the most damaging things environmental communicators can do is talk about what we should all do without attempting to put new ideas into practice. So I have also arranged, with the help of the IceCAPS group at the University of Colorado, a ‘Post-Flood Event: Experiences of a Natural Disaster + Climate Risk Awareness’, Thursday October 24th. If you will be in Boulder you are welcome to sign up to this free event.

The question remains: how are natural disaster events a departure point for climate awareness and action? In my recent PhD I argued that the practices in feminist education that have enabled women to confront structural injustices and discrimination are valuable tools for environmental education. Our event will use some of these methods as a means of exploring how experiences of the flood can enable climate literacy.

Climate literacy is a deeper learning project that simply absorbing a few facts on the state of the climate. Sustainable learning theory suggests that there are levels of learning and ways of knowing that effect our capacities to respond to environmental threats. Knowing about the risks climate change and knowing what and how we can do we can wean our culture off greenhouse gases are different (but related) educational processes. Climate literacy has many elements:

  • a critical assessment of our own attitudes in regards to climate change
  • a recognition of possibilities for social, political and economic change
  • acquiring new knowledge, skills and capacities to support this change
  • acquiring capacities to challenge the forces devoted to a fossil fuel economy
  • integration of climate literacy into all sphere of life (personal, professional and political)

Clearly all these learning experiences are not something that can happen in a 1.5 hour session planned for October 24th. Potentially this event will generate enough interest to make a longer workshop possible in the near future. One thing is certain. We will all need to devote time and energy to climate change awareness and action if we are serious about weaning our civilization off dangerous greenhouse gases.

4 thoughts on “Experiences of a Natural Disaster as a Catalyst for Climate Awareness

  1. Pingback: Ways of Knowing about Climate Change: Reflections on the Climate Wise Women event by Inside the GreenHouse @ the University of Colorado | EcoLabs

  2. Pingback: Resilience NEWS | resilience reporter

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