Research article

Responding to the environmental crisis through education: the imperative for teacher support across all disciplines

  • Kate Greer orcid logo (IOE, UCLs Faculty of Education and Society, University College London)
  • Nicola Walshe (IOE, UCLs Faculty of Education and Society, University College London)
  • Alison Kitson (IOE, UCLs Faculty of Education and Society, University College London)
  • Justin Dillon (IOE, UCLs Faculty of Education and Society, University College London)

This article is a preprint and is currently undergoing peer review by UCL Open: Environment.


The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC, 2023) sets out sobering scenarios about the future for our young people and appeals for “deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” (ibid., p. 12). Although technological responses are essential to achieve these reductions, technocratic solutions will not solve the environmental crisis; instead, a widespread societal transformation is needed. Education can play a profound role in this transformation as it is fundamental to building a society with knowledge, skills and wherewithal to boldly tackle climate change as well as the broader environmental crisis. This commentary reflects on multiple dimensions of this role and particularly focuses on schools and the important contribution that all subjects can make towards developing interdisciplinary, complex understandings of the environmental crisis and how we can live more sustainably. Drawing from a recent nation-wide survey of teachers in England carried out by UCLs Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (Greer, Sheldrake, et al., 2023), we highlight a troubling lack of engagement in formal professional development related to climate change and sustainability, even amongst a ‘climate change engaged’ cohort of teachers, and the imperative for comprehensive professional development for teachers from across all disciplines, as part of the response to the environmental crisis.

Keywords: Education, Climate Change, The Environment, Knowledge, Teachers, Professional Development, Climate, Environment

Preprint Under Review

 Open peer review from Efram Eilam

Reviewer: Efram Eilam
DOI: 10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-SOCSCI.AGZOHT.v1.RZFGPW
Date Completed: 2024-03-01


Review text

This review is provided by Efrat Eilam, Associate Professor, Institute of Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities Program of Arts and Education, Victoria University, Australia  


The commentary entitled “Responding to the environmental crisis through education: the imperative for teacher support across all disciplines” briefly describes some survey findings among ‘climate change engaged’ cohort of teachers. The commentary further describes future plans by UCLs Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (CCCSE) for advancing this educational field.

This commentary adds valuable contribution to the field by highlighting critical gaps in CCCSE implementation and in teacher professional development, and by outlining a path forward.

To further improve the clarity of the commentary and the coherency of the rationale, I would like to make the following suggestions:

Concerning clarity, please provide some more information concerning the surveyed sample, including the teachers’ areas of specialisation and Year Levels. Another point that requires some clarification is in relation to the following quotes: “Amongst this cohort, climate change and sustainability were most commonly incorporated into geography and science in secondary settings” (p. 3); and “this distinct lack of engagement in formal PD, even amongst our ‘climate change engaged’ cohort of teachers who are mostly teachers of geography and science, is troubling” (p. 3). The two statements seem tautological. If most of the survey respondents were geography and science teachers, one would expect that the findings collected from this cohort will indicate that CC is taught primarily in science and geography. Consequently it seems inappropriate to conclude that CCCSE is addressed mainly in geography and science, if other specialist teachers were not sufficiently represented in the sample

Concerning the coherency of the underlying rationale, some of the underlying assumptions need substantiation. Paragraph 2 focuses on describing the role of education as institutions for solving climate change. Here, education is conceived as institutions that work for the purpose of energy conservation. From an education perspective this approach conveys a behaviorist approach to education, where the focus of education is on the end-goals of emission reduction, rather than on the process of education. Gert Biesta (2022) criticized learning outcomes based on behaviour modification, where

… instead of asking what the schools should “do” for society—which seems to have become the most prominent way in which the task of the school is nowadays being conceived—I ask what society should “do” for the school so that the school can be a school (Biesta, 2022, p. 9).

Additionally, Jorgenson et al. (2019) have addressed the behavioural aspect in CCCSE from the perspective of its efficacy. Both forms of critique seem to me worth considering.

Another undiscussed assumption concerns the need to include CCCSE across the curriculum. To substantiate such a taken for granted assumption, there is a need to examine both empirical evidence (what is the evidence that students may study CCCSE better when the topic is taught across the curriculum?) and the theoretical underpinning of the assumption (What epistemic theories support this approach?). Personally, I have not yet seen empirical evidence that support the cross-curriculum approach, often referred to as ‘a whole school approach’. The evidence is mixed at best (please see Niebert, 2019). From the perspectives of theories of learning, some evidence suggests that fragmentation of concepts across various learning areas may hinder conceptual development due to extraneous cognitive load (e.g. Sweller et al., 2019).

The following statement seems to tackle the question of evidence in the following way: “While the knowledge and skills contained within the disciplines of geography and science are important, teaching scientific facts alone can exacerbate eco-anxiety (Ojala, 2016; Rousell & Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, 2020) which is why teaching across the curriculum is needed” (P. 3).

Firstly, concerning the statement that “teaching scientific facts alone can exacerbate eco-anxiety”, the evidence points to the contrary (please see Zacher & Rudolph, 2023; and Asgarizadeh et al., 2023).

Secondly, the statement presents the unsubstantiated assumption that geography and science teach facts alone. This is far from being correct. Science Educating has been advocating the incorporation of social aspects through various approaches from as early as the 1960’s, with the most recent iteration of this approach, expressed in the ‘Socio Scientific Issues’ approach (Sadler et al., 2006; Zeidler & Newton, 2017). Consequently, the explanation as to why CC needs to be taught through a cross curriculum approach is lacking in factual evidence and theoretical basis.

To summarise, the important work conducted by UCLs Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Education (CCCSE) may be enhanced through critical examination of taken for granted assumptions, and by deepening the evidence-basis of approaches to implementation.


Asgarizadeh, Z., Gifford, R., & Colborne, L(2023). Predicting climate change anxiety. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 90, 102087.

Biesta, G. (2022). World-centred education: A view for the present. Routledge.

Jorgenson, S. N., Stephens, J. C., & White, B. (2019). Environmental education in transition: A critical review of recent research on climate change and energy education. Journal of Environmental Education, 50(3), 160–171.

Niebert, K. (2019). Effective sustainability education is political education. On_Education Journal for Research and Debate, 2(4). http://10.17899/on_ed.2019.4.5

Sadler, T. D., Amirshokoohi, A., Kazempour, M., & Allspaw, K. (2006). Socioscience and ethics in science classrooms: Teacher perspectives and strategies. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43, 353–376.

Sweller, J., van Merriënboer, J. J. G., & Paas, F. (2019). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design: 20 Years Later. Educational Psychology Review 31, 261–292.

Zacher, H., & Rudolph, C.W. (2023). Environmental knowledge is inversely associated with climate change anxiety. Climatic Change, 176(32).

Zeidler, D. L., & Newton, M. H. (2017). Using a socioscientific issues framework for climate change education: An ecojustice approach. Taylor and Francis.

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This review refers to round 1 of peer review and may pertain to an earlier version of the document.