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Climate Literacy

Climate Literacy

It was a rainy afternoon when my friend Anupama Sen and I were stuck in the small coffee-shop in south Calcutta. Anupama is my childhood friend, now a renowned physician in the city with a neat six figure private practice – I recalled her super sharp mind and fierce debating skills from the high school days. We seemed to meet each other couple of years by jolly coincidence in all unlikely places and the current being in the boring office of Motor Vehicles department where we both turned up for renewal of our driving licenses. As old friends we fell prey to the temptations of catching up with one another in a CCD shop and an unexpected November shower stranded us up.

‘Extreme climatic variability.’ Anupama said, rolling her eyes. I nodded my head looking outside as dirty puddle of water slowly gathered at the edges of the road.

‘My car is BS IV, hope I am not putting too much CO2 up there,’ she said and gave me a skeptic grin. I faced her and said evenly, ‘You better not.’

I shall not get into a personal story. But this preamble is necessary. Anupama Sen, a professional medical doctor, a highly informed and successful person, is a Climate skeptic. And she is Climate illiterate. I hope it’s not a jolt for you because she is not the only professional with science background who is a climate illiterate. There are many scientists, economists, engineers – in fact reasonably educated and well placed people who are not clime literates. Most are either hardcore deniers or soft core skeptics. The situation is even more complicated if you consider ‘climate deceivers’, people who live on arm-chair climate science, use few fashionable climate jargons but at heart believes that climate change is an alarmist utopia.

But first question first. Who is a climate literate?

A Climate literate is one who (i) understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system, (ii) knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate,(iii)communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and (iv)is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

I find this definition quite handy plus it makes abundantly clear to me why there are so many deniers. In my experience, I have seen people more in performing arts than in practicing science better oriented towards climate literacy. So when you see a PhD after the name of someone who is denying Climate Change, don’t put the issue into an intellectual dustbin – not before checking if he/she is climate literate.

Usually, Climate literacy is taken interchangeable as Climate Science literacy – however there is, in my opinion, a little difference between the two. The former is more inclusive because it treats climate as one core issue of life not just a matter essentially linked to physical sciences. In the later the concern is more about science that studies Climate as a geo-physical system. The two are not contradictory; the later is a special case of a general idea. Climate is an ideal interdisciplinary theme for lifelong learning about the scientific process and the ways in which humans affect and are affected by the Earth’s systems. This rich topic can be approached at many levels, from comparing the daily weather with long-term records to exploring abstract representations of climate in computer models to examining how climate change impacts human and ecosystem health. Learners of all ages can use data from their own experiments, data collected by satellites and other observation systems, or records from a range of physical, chemical, biological, geographical, social, economic, and historical sources to explore the impacts of climate and potential adaptation and mitigation strategies. However, being a climate literate is the first part of human contemporary awareness and a belief that humans cannot affect Climate by their actions in short or long term is the juggernaut of the deniers.

Of the many aspects of Climate change that are popularly published and discussed, the most unappreciated part is that Climate change is not a complete doomsday scenario but it is expected to bring economic and environmental challenges as well as opportunities, and citizens who have an understanding of climate science will be better prepared to respond to both. Society needs citizens who understand the climate system and know how to apply that knowledge in their careers and in their engagement as active members of their communities.

Maybe not so much aware of scientifically credible information of climate, farmers, gardeners and indigenous communities, living off forests and in remote areas of earth where urbanization has not severed the links between climatic elements and daily life, are naturally Climate literate. They are repository of knowledge about sustainable living yet not ideal life in modern world. One cannot expect to go back and live in straw huts. But developing climatic links with life like pager alert is necessary. If you do not turn off your AC at all you are turning off your own biological climatic clock. If you surrender to the produce of Industrial Agriculture, you are missing out on the organic edibles that carry seals of climate’s variation. It is a kind of climate literacy that determines decision making of indigenous communities – they instinctively understand which activity will be affecting climate in the long run. That instinct is missing in modern urbanized societies and the appreciation of such wisdom is missing in the current economies.

My friend Anupama’s car emits less carbon per kilometer of travel but she travels more kilometers in her car, thereby offsetting any advantage technology has offered her while interacting with nature. Climate literacy plays a vital role of transferring some responsibility from the producers to consumers.

Feature Image Courtesy: Global Change

Post Written by
Pabitra is an Honors graduate in Civil Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He has specialized in the field of River Hydraulics working for more than two decades training rivers, protecting banks and beaches and fighting erosion of the river banks/beds. He has worked with Bio-Engineering models involving mangroves using them as tools for cost effective and natural means of anti-erosion technology.His work is mostly concerning the extremely morpho-dynamic Hugly estuary with Bay of Bengal In course of his work, he got exposed to indigenous people of the Sunderban wetlands, who are fighting a losing battle against aggressive Industrialization. Pabitra loves to read and write and he is full of crazy ideas. He is a Youth Leader and Adviser to Climate Himalaya. He is also a contributor member of THINK ABOUT IT platform of European Journalism Center and a winner of the recently concluded competitive blogging on Water. Pabitra believes that he has a tryst with the strange river-country south of Bengal.


  1. Somnath Chaudhuri says:

    Aahhh. Now I know I am illiterate.Climate wise.