Bicycle Model on Climate Change Education

Essi Aarnio-Linnanvuori, Hannele Cantell, Anna Lehtonen ja Sakari Tolppanen

Climate change is a wicked problem, as there are no simple solutions for the issue. Environmental and sustainability education models do not, as such, suffice to meet the needs of depicting climate change education, as they do not sufficiently reflect the broad scope of climate change. Therefore, we have created a specific model for holistic climate change education: the bicycle model.

The climate change education model (Figure 1) is presented as a bicycle because climate change education, like a bicycle, is one entity that requires all of its parts to function together. Furthermore, a bike is not meant to stay still, but rather, needs a user to be in constant motion. The model is based on recent climate change education research literature.

Figure 1. The climate change education model.

Wheels: Knowledge and Thinking Skills

Wheels are essential in order for a bike to move forward. Without them a bicycle is not a bicycle. Therefore, in the climate change education model, the wheels depict knowledge and thinking skills, as they are a necessity for climate change education. We wish to emphasize that climate change information is interdisciplinary. Therefore, also climate change education ought to be so. In addition, climate-related information alone is worthless if it is not used, applied or critically evaluated. This is why the knowledge wheel requires a companion: critical thinking skills.

Frame: Identity, Values and Worldview

The identity, values and worldview of a learner create the foundation for climate change education. Climate change raises issues related to humanity, society, culture and ethics that are easily excluded in education. The wicked nature of climate change is reflected in conflicts of value. The discussion on values should be versatile, at least from the point of view of human dignity and equality: should everyone, for example, have the same opportunities for success and prosperity, and if so why are we depriving each other?

Chains and Pedals: Action to curb Climate Change

Knowledge and thinking skills need to transfer into practical action. In the model this is depicted through the bicycle’s chains and pedals. In this context, activity means activity on ‘real life’ issues, to curb climate change. Even a young learner will be able to participate in climate change mitigation when encouraged and guided.

Saddle: Motivation and Participation

The bicycle does not move without a cyclist. However, the bicycle will not be used if it is difficult to sit on the saddle. The saddle thus affects the cyclists ’ motivation. Climate change should not be described as a distant issue, or something that is too complicated to understand. Rather, it is essential to emphasize that people have built our society, and therefore, we can change it as well. Though the model only contains one bicycle for simplistic reasons, the key to climate change mitigation and adaptation is to work together.

Brakes: Operational Barriers

To promote environmental responsibility, it is essential to understand what is hampering action. The barriers to environmental responsibility are often humane – such as desire for comfort, laziness, habit and rush. Environmental responsibility is also hampered by structural reasons, such as the lack of a functioning infrastructure like public transport network. Lack of action towards climate change mitigation is also caused by various psychological and socio-cultural barriers.

Lamp: Hope and Other Emotions

Climate change may raise strong emotions, which, in the bicycle model, is depicted as a lamp showing the way forward. Studies have found that many students experience strong feelings towards climate change, such as worry, fear, sadness, guilt, hatred and hopelessness. Emotions have a significant impact on learning. Instead of negativity, climate change education should stimulate hope and compassion in people. For this reason, the bicycle model has highlighted the importance of hope in particular.

Handlebar: Future Orientation

Envisioning the future is a key component of climate change education. Education should provide ways to look at the future critically, but in a positive light. This is a challenge in education, as many of the climate change scenarios provide a dark picture of the Earth’s future, and the phenomenon is complex. However, in education, decision making should be practiced, even when its accuracy is not fully assured.

The bicycle model is based on research literature but we are convinced that it is useful also for practitioners. The model can be used as a tool for planning educational entities. As a visual presentation, the model and a metaphor are easy to remember. The model was first published in Finnish but further research in English is waiting for publication.

Original article: Tolppanen, Sakari, Aarnio-Linnanvuori, Essi, Cantell, Hannele & Lehtonen, Anna. 2017. Pirullisen ongelman äärellä. Kokonaisvaltaisen ilmastokasvatuksen polkupyörämalli. Kasvatus 5/2017, 456-468.

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