HomeEarthClimate impacts are increasing; textbooks aren't keeping pace

Climate impacts are increasing; textbooks aren’t keeping pace

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According to a new study from North Carolina State University, biology textbooks have done a poor job of incorporating climate change material. Now we have significant advances in our understanding of how climate change affects ecosystems and the environment. But most textbooks published in the 2010s contained less information about climate change than they did the previous decade.

Researchers examined climate change coverage in 57 college biology textbooks published between 1970 and 2019. The researchers discovered that climate coverage has varied significantly over the last five decades.

Prior to 1990, the average number of sentences in textbooks addressing climate change was less than ten. The average length of climate content in the 1990s was 30 sentences. The median length of climate content increased to 52 sentences in the 2000s. It is not surprising given the amount of new research on climate change and its consequences. The researchers discovered, that the amount of climate coverage in textbooks actually decreased in the 2010s. It fell to a median of 45 sentences.

Aside from length, the nature of the content has changed dramatically over time. Sentences devoted to actionable climate change solutions peaked in the 1990s. It accounted for more than 15% of the climate content. In recent decades, actionable solutions have accounted for only about 3% of climate content.

The position of climate change sections in books has also shifted from the last 15% of the overall text in the 1970s to the last 2.5% of the text in the 2010s.

Rabiya Arif Ansari, an undergraduate student at NCSU, spent her pandemic years studying climate change content in 50 years of biology textbooks with her mentor, Jennifer Landin. The two met regularly, masked and distanced, to analyze textbooks in a large conference room on the deserted campus. Credit: J.M. Landin, CC-BY 4.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

The study was titled as “Coverage of climate change in introductory biology textbooks, 1970-2019”. It will be published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on December 21. Rabiya Arif Ansari, a former NC State undergraduate, is the paper’s first author.

More information: Coverage of climate change in introductory biology textbooks, 1970-2019, PLoS ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0278532

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