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HomeEnvironmentStudy: Biology textbooks aren’t keeping up with climate science

Study: Biology textbooks aren’t keeping up with climate science

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With every year that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the climate crisis deepens — as does the threat it poses to life on Earth. But that increasing urgency isn’t reflected in many of the U.S.’s undergraduate biology textbooks. The good news, Landin said, was that climate coverage has increased since the 1970s and ‘80s, when college biology textbooks only dedicated about 11 sentences to the issue.

With every year that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the climate crisis deepens — as does the threat it poses to life on Earth. But that increasing urgency isn’t reflected in many of the U.S.’s undergraduate biology textbooks.

According to a new paper published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, climate change coverage in college biology textbooks has failed to keep pace with our scientific understanding of the issue or its mounting importance for every living organism on the planet, from single-celled algae to blue whales. Although today’s textbooks contain more sentences on climate change than those from the 1970s, these sentences offer fewer solutions and have been pushed toward the back of the book — where they are likely to be skipped over.

“Why are we still ignoring this issue?” asked Jennifer Landin, a teaching associate professor at North Carolina State University and an author of the paper.

Landin and a coauthor looked at 57 of the most widely used undergraduate biology textbooks published between 1970 and 2019. They analyzed each book’s climate change coverage for length and content — the fraction of sentences used to describe the physical processes of climate change, its impacts on the world’s ecosystems, and ways to address it. They also looked at the textbooks’ changing use of charts and figures.

The good news, Landin said, was that climate coverage has increased since the 1970s and ‘80s, when college biology textbooks only dedicated about 11 sentences to the issue. By the 2000s, textbooks were covering climate change with a median of 51 sentences.

However, this number dropped in the 2010s to 45 sentences — “basically two pages of a Harry Potter paperback,” Landin said. This means most of the college biology textbooks published in the past decade have actually shortened their climate coverage since the 2000s, despite a

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