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Designing Learning About Climate Change: Beyond Fear and Loathing in Settler-Colonial Societies

Fri, April 17, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Hyatt, Floor: West Tower - Green Level, Crystal C


Objectives. In this theoretical paper I explore critical dimensions and trends in the development of learning environments about climate change both as they relate to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and youth. More specifically, I consider the narratives of land and dwelling that are being reified and developed and to what ends.

Perspectives. In settler-colonial societies circles of inclusion and exclusion form a core dialectic relationship in which settlers are constructed as normative and are structurally maintained by employing a set of rules that are driven by the desire to erase or assimilate Indigenous people (Wolfe, 2006). Over the past twenty years Indigenous scholars have been arguing that the dominant relations to climate change, including denial and apathy, are driven by settler perspectives of land and life and the invisibility of Indigenous peoples for whom climate change is already having devastating and transforming affects on communities and homelands (e.g. Kawagley, 2006; Wildcat, 2009).

Mode of inquiry. In this paper, I take up core readings of settler-colonialism (e.g. Wolfe, 2006; Verancini, 2011) and national narratives of climate education and compare them in comparison to a participatory design research project with an Indigenous youth theater company working to develop theatrical productions focused on issues of climate change. A key aspect of climate education has been focused on individual’s lack of understanding about complex ecological systems (e.g. Buhr, 2011). I explore the assumptions and implications driving the possible scope and pedagogy of climate change learning and research. Further.

Data Sources. I analyze 3 transcripts of community meetings in which 7-12 people participated discussing and prioritizing what young Indigenous learners need to understand about climate change.

Results. While climate education is focused on understanding change, I suggest that this is running counter to the social norms of human-nature relations. I argue that the dominant public narratives and conceptual frameworks being engage are based in presumed anthropocentric entitlement to land and presumed human superiority that are dismissive of the deep social structures and relations to land that have enabled the conditions for human induced climate change. I argue that the underpinning focus on structures (as opposed to events) in settler-colonial societies has created a sense of land permanence and invisibility of change that is driving climate apathy and denial and allowed for the profound invisibility of climate change in the present – particularly those changes Indigenous peoples are at the forefront of experiencing.

Scientific or scholarly significance. The frameworks being employed about climate change dramatically shape the possible scopes of understanding, action, and change taken up in learning environments. Deeply questions the foundations for which human-nature relations are being constructed and reconstructed in the context of climate change is critical for all of our sustainable futures. As climate change and climate change policy is increasingly a critical site of land and water renegotiations, unearthing the forms of neoliberalism driving these processes is critical in creating any forms of just futures.


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