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Guest Editorial: Exploring Climate Justice Learning: Visions, Challenges, and Opportunities

Connected Science Learning September-October 2021 (Volume 3, Issue 5)

By Deb L. Morrison and Philip Bell

Guest Editorial: Exploring Climate Justice Learning: Visions, Challenges, and Opportunities

It has never been so clear that the sweeping and inequitable effects of anthropogenic climate change are upon us—with frontline communities being the most impacted while having contributed the least to producing the crisis. While climate justice action has been a growing social movement deeply interwoven into the broader environmental justice movement, instruction and learning focused on climate justice has been mostly absent from school-based contexts. We need to collectively respond through the educational enterprise more broadly and deeply—and it needs to happen quickly. As we discuss in this special issue, there is important work to learn from and important histories of work to know about.

Science education has a vital role to play in promoting just and sustainable futures for people and all living beings who are most adversely impacted by global climate change and environmental degradation. Broader and deeper collective action across the educational enterprise needs to happen as quickly as possible. The more we can all learn to understand and collectively mobilize to take informed action, the more we can avoid undue climate harm and violence on those who are and will be impacted (Stapleton 2019; McGregor and Christie 2021). However, many educators find themselves underprepared to handle this complex and intersectional topic, particularly when it a justice-focused approach. How should we promote learning to create more just, thriving, and regenerative conditions for all Earthly beings, human and otherwise? In the face of a rapidly deteriorating global climate, what is the role of science education in this work?

The youth climate movement of the past few years has brought this issue into clear focus, as has the broader social awareness of issues of colonialism and racial violence experienced by Indigenous and Black communities as well as other Communities of Color. The intersection of climate and justice is clearly laid out in the 27 Bali Principles of Climate Justice, explicitly drawing on the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice. We are beginning to see coherent efforts in some states (e.g., ClimeTime in Washington) and districts (e.g., Portland Public Schools) to engage students in climate science learning with a justice focus. The teaching of climate change is also being supported by state-level legislative efforts that are being fostered by national networks (e.g., The Coalition for Climate Change Education Policy, CCEP) and by cross-sector coalitions supporting schools in taking up this work (e.g., The K–12 Climate Action Initiative at the Aspen Institute).

As climate change education efforts progress, there is a need to entwine such work with the principles of climate justice named by those most impacted and having worked at the intersections of climate change and justice longest. Intersectional issues of justice need to be fundamentally part of climate science education and climate change learning. To  support this, we must find ways to support our educators to engage in social, economic, political, design, and historical dimensions of this work. To this end we need to consider questions such as:

  • Who defines what climate justice learning goals and approaches should be?
  • Whose knowledge of climate science is being named and engaged in instruction? By whom? Toward what ends? Under what forms of consent and collaboration?
  • What is the role of science education in dismantling, desettling, and reforming educational systems to focus on climate justice?
  • How can we disrupt white environmental imaginaries within curricula and instruction about how we collectively respond to climate change and instead focus on just and thriving futures for Communities of Color?
  • How do we connect science and STEM instruction to collective action, activism, civic participation, and social responsibility?
  • How do privileged teachers engage in this work with respect, humility, and authenticity?

The articles in this special issue on climate justice learning will draw on theories and practices of social justice science pedagogy and (w)holistic science pedagogy as well as socio-ecological investigations from the Learning in Places Project. You’ll also find resources and ideas for guiding development of relevant and usable infrastructures for this complicated work (Bell 2019). In doing so, we hope that these examples of climate learning provide a concrete glimpse into what is possible for learning within and across a variety of school and community settings—and showcase why we must collectively take up this work at broad scale as expediently as we can in justice-centered ways.


This material is based upon work supported in part by the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) through the ClimeTime initiative and by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1626365. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of any funder.

Deb L. Morrison (, a learning scientist with the Institute of Science + Math Education at the University of Washington, is deeply engaged in research-practice partnership efforts around equity and justice in STEM learning contexts, particularly with respect to furthering climate justice. Morrison has taught middle school science and is passionate about working with educators. More about Morrison at Find her on Twitter @educatordebPhilip Bell is a professor of education at the University of Washington, Seattle, and editor of STEM Teaching Tools. He served on the committee that authored A Framework for K–12 Science Education, which guided development of the Next Generation Science Standards. He and his collaborators have worked to implement the Framework's equity-focused vision in classrooms, school districts, and afterschool programs. Bell shares resources and ideas on Twitter at @philiplbell

Further Resources

Much more work is occurring across many other contexts and is ever expanding. The sustained efforts of those such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, the NAACP’s Climate and Environmental Justice Program, the Climate Justice Alliance, UNESCO’s Climate Frontlines, Climate Wise Women, and the HBCU Climate Change Consortium are just a few of the many long-term efforts to foster awareness, learning, and collective action around climate justice.

citation: Morrison, D.L., and P. Bell. 2021. Guest editorial: Exploring climate justice learning: Visions, challenges, and opportunities. Connected Science Learning 3 (5).


Bell, P. 2019. Infrastructuring Teacher Learning about Equitable Science Instruction. Journal of Science Teacher Education 30 (7): 681–690. DOI: 10.1080/1046560X.2019.1668218

First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. 1991. The principles of environmental justice. Defined by delegates to the summit held October 24–27, 1991, in Washington, DC.

International Climate Justice Network. 2002. Bali principles of climate justice. Created by delegates to the preparatory meeting for the Earth Summit held in Bali, Indonesia, August, 2002.

McGregor, C., and B. Christie. 2021. Towards climate justice education: Views from activists and educators in Scotland. Environmental Education Research 27 (5): 652–668.

Morales-Doyles, D. 2019. Justice‐centered science pedagogy with Daniel Morales-Doyle. NGSNavigators.

Patterson, A., and S. Gray. 2019. Teaching to transform:(W) holistic Science Pedagogy. Theory into practice 58 (4): 328–337.

Stapleton, S.R. 2019. A case for climate justice education: American youth connecting to intragenerational climate injustice in Bangladesh. Environmental Education Research 25 (5): 732–750.

Climate Change Environmental Science Equity NGSS STEM Teaching Strategies Informal Education

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