Climate change is faster than education's response

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The ever-alert Learn from Nature pointed me to an article in a recent Observer on how the rate of climate change is likely to outstrip nature's speed of adaptation.  The article reports a paper in Ecology Letters, an on-line journal, whose abstract says:

A key question in predicting responses to anthropogenic climate change is: how quickly can species adapt to different climatic conditions?  Here, we take a phylogenetic approach to this question.  We use 17 time-calibrated phylogenies representing the major tetrapod clades (amphibians, birds, crocodilians, mammals, squamates, turtles) and climatic data from distributions of > 500 extant species.  We estimate rates of change based on differences in climatic variables between sister species and estimated times of their splitting.  We compare these rates to predicted rates of climate change from 2000 to 2100.  Our results are striking: matching projected changes for 2100 would require rates of niche evolution that are > 10 000 times faster than rates typically observed among species, for most variables and clades.  Despite many caveats, our results suggest that adaptation to projected changes in the next 100 years would require rates that are largely unprecedented based on observed rates among vertebrate species.

The Observer piece says:

The crucial point of the study is that it stresses a fact that is often conveniently ignored by climate change deniers.  It is not just the dramatic nature of the changes that lie ahead – melting icecaps, rising sea levels and soaring temperatures – but the extraordinary speed at which they are occurring.  Past transformations that saw planetary temperatures soar took millions of years to occur.  The one we are creating will take only a few generations to take place.  Either evolution speeds up 10,000-fold, which is an unlikely occurrence, or there will be widespread extinctions.

Educational change might be wise to speed up too – at least so think those who know that education (and its outcome and stimulus, learning) really matters in all this, and has something significant to contribute.

Of course, we are ourselves something of an endangered bunch as well, especially those of us who think that it's what learners learn that matters, and not what teachers (and their activist fellow travellers) think they should learn.  I put most of those who encourage / support / promote / cheer-lead ESD in this camp, despite what they say about themselves.  Their trouble (I generalise somewhat) is that they are so confident about what learning need to be that they are happy to set it all out in considerable detail as learning outcomes where what learners themselves think, or bring to the experience, seems to have little or no bearing on the matter.  Whilst deprecating normativity in others, they remain enthusiasts themselves.

Something to add here about motes and beams ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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