Teaching the Climate Crisis: Existential Considerations


climate change
science education
social studies education
terror management theory

How to Cite

van Kessel, C. (2020). Teaching the Climate Crisis: Existential Considerations. Journal Of Curriculum Studies Research, 2(1), 129-145. https://doi.org/10.46303/jcsr.02.01.8


It is urgent that educators in social studies and science (among other disciplines) consider the ethical imperative of teaching the climate crisis—the future is at stake. This article considers a barrier to teaching this contentious topic effectively: existential threat. Through the lens of terror management theory, it becomes clear that climate catastrophe is an understandably fraught topic as it can serve as a reminder of death in two ways. As will be explained in this article, simultaneously such discussions can elicit not only mortality salience from considering the necrocene produced by climate catastrophe, but also existential anxiety arising from worldview threat. This threat can occur when Western assumptions are called into question as well as when there is disagreement between those with any worldviews that differ. After summarizing relevant aspects of terror management theory and analyzing the teaching of the climate crisis as an existential affair, specific strategies to help manage this situation (in and out of the classroom) are explored: providing conceptual tools, narrating cascading emotions, carefully using humor to diffuse anxiety, employing language and phrasing that does not overgeneralize divergent groups, and priming ideas of tolerance and even nurturance of difference.


This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).