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Climate change in textbooks

Cite this dataset

Landin, Jennifer (2022). Climate change in textbooks [Dataset]. Dryad.


Climate change is a potent threat to human society, biodiversity, and ecosystem stability. Yet a 2021 Gallup poll found that only 43% of Americans see climate change as a serious threat over their lifetimes. In this study, we analyze college biology textbook coverage of climate change from 1970 to 2019. We focus on four aspects for document analysis: 1) the amount of coverage, determined by counting the number of sentences within the climate change passage, 2) the start location of the passage in the book, 3) the categorization of sentences as addressing a description of the greenhouse effect, impacts of global warming, or actions to ameliorate climate change, and 4) the presentation of data in figures. We analyzed 57 textbooks. Our findings show that coverage of climate change has continually increased. However, the greatest increase occurred during the 1990s, despite the growing threats of climate change. The position of the climate change passage moved further back in the book, from the last 15% to the last 2.5% of pages. Over time, coverage shifted from a description of the greenhouse effect to focus mostly on effects of climate change; the most addressed impact was shifting ecosystems. Sentences dedicated to actionable solutions to climate change peaked in the 1990s at over 15% of the passage, then decreased in recent decades to 3%. Data figures present only global temperatures and CO2 levels prior to the year 2000, then include photographic evidence and changes to species distributions after 2000. We hope this study will alert curriculum designers and instructors to consider implicit messages communicated in climate change lessons.