Climate Literacy

An Early Effort to Promote Climate Literacy

During the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-1958, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a pioneering science education publication, Planet Earth: Mystery with 100,000 Clues. The brochure pointed out that Earth's natural greenhouse effect was being altered as "our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate." The brochure went on to warn that if this continued, the result "would have a marked warming effect on Earth's climate" that could "cause significant melting of the great ice caps and raise sea levels in time."

A Current Climate Literacy brochure

Fifty years after the IGY, as part of a community effort to promote climate literacy, current climate scientists, formal and informal educators, and representatives of a range of U.S. agencies participated in developing and vetting a list of the most important concepts in climate science. The document they produced — Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science — reflects a broad and current effort to define climate literacy.

The task of generating the document was inspired, in part, by work conducted by AAAS Project 2061, federal science agencies, and others who worked to identify essential principles and fundamental concepts for Ocean Literacy. Individuals who participated in the Framework for Climate and Weather Education Workshop, cosponsored by NOAA and AAAS Project 2061, and the Atmospheric Science and Climate Literacy Workshop, sponsored by UCAR, AGU, and CIRES with funding from NSF and NOAA, contributed substantially to development of the document. Additionally, discussions at numerous public presentations and a period of formal review led to the final version of the document.

A Current Climate Literacy brochure Download the guide:

English Language:
High (15.51MB) Resolution pdf | Low (3.45MB) Resolucion pdf | Word (780kb). 

En Español: Un Enfoque Climático Para Todas Las Edades
Alta (15.5MB) Resolutión pdf | Baja (3.40MB) Resolutión pdf | Word (728kb).


Humans can take actions to reduce climate change and its impacts.

CLIMATE LITERACY: The Essential Principles of Climate Science

  • The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earths climate system.
  • Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
  • Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.
  • Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.
  • Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
  • Human activities are impacting the climate system.
  • Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

Related Documents

Communicating and Learning About Global Climate Change: An Abbreviated Guide for Teaching Climate Change This guide from AAAS Project 2061 lists the relevant ideas and skills that are central to understanding the science of climate change, the process of scientific inquiry, and the trade-offs and constraints implicit in making choices about technology. For each of these topics, the guide maps out what students should be learning in kindergarten through 12th grade and describes what a science literate adult should know and be able to do.

The Case for Climate Literacy in the 21st Century 
Increased accessibility of the Internet and evolutionary advances in geospatial data browsers, virtual globes, and immersive visualization displays have significantly increased the potential for a more climate science literate public. This paper reviews current research about the public's awareness, understanding, and opinions about climate.

Revolutionizing Earth System Science Education for the 21st Century
Report and Recommendations from a 50-State Analysis of Earth Science Education conducted by TERC for NOAA. Published June, 2007.

Environmental Literacy in America
This 2005 paper concludes that Americans are widely illiterate about environmental issues, especially more complex topics such as energy and climate. The report, published by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), is based on more than ten years of NEEF/Roper research and related studies on environmental literacy in the US.

Atlas of Science Literacy: Mapping K—12 Science Learning
The Atlas of Science Literacy is a two-volume collection of conceptual strand maps and commentary that show how students' understanding of the ideas and skills that lead to literacy in science, mathematics, and technology might develop from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Spreadsheet of selected AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks relating to weather, climate, and atmospheric science, prepared October 2007.

Other Literacy Initiatives

The Ocean Literacy brochure provides a defintion of ocean literacy, the seven essential principles for understanding the world's ocean, and a matrix mapping the National Science Education Standards to the essential principles and key concepts of ocean literacy.

The Atmospheric Sciences Literacy brochure provides decision makers with information to more effectively shape the nation's priorities and strategies for science education.

The Earth Science Literacy Initiative (ESLI), funded by the National Science Foundation, represents efforts to gather and codify the underlying understandings of the Earth sciences into a succinct document that would have broad-reaching applications in both public and private arenas.


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Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather.