Wikipedia: a powerful tool for climate education

When communicating about the climate crisis to the public, it’s important to get four main messages across:

  1. The climate crisis is real, immediate, and human-caused.
  2. The impacts are catastrophic, especially for humanity.
  3. There is urgency to act now.
  4. We already have solutions that can provide for a more equitable and just future.

Each of these messages faces threats: active discrediting from players who profit from the world’s inaction and the resulting confusion and exhaustion that these actions foster. After decades of misinformation and greenwashing campaigns, it’s no wonder that individuals feel overwhelmed, powerless, and tired when faced with all that needs to be done. So what can be done to motivate the public to demand action from elected officials and leaders? And where do each of us fit into the most important mission of our lifetimes?

November 6th marks the beginning of the United Nations’ 27th Climate Change Conference (COP27), where nations will account for their progress toward the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and renew commitments to keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius. As the president of the UN climate summits, Sameh Shoukry, said in his recent address, this conference is a unique opportunity for the world to “come together, mend multilateralism, rebuild trust and unite at the highest political levels to address climate change.”

Each of these central goals to mitigate the climate crisis–mending multilateralism, building trust, and uniting toward action–are inherent in another entity too that we all know and love: Wikipedia. Integrating scientific information into Wikipedia about the effects of the climate crisis and the solutions for solving it is one of the most powerful ways to influence the public’s understanding of climate.

  • Mending multilateralism: Averaging 18 billion page views per month, Wikipedia is the 5th most visited website in the world.
  • Building trust: Wikipedia is free from advertising or the influence of private interests. Its open access origins create the possibility of democratizing knowledge, and its community has worked for more than 20 years to fight mis- and dis-information.
  • Uniting towards action: Wikipedia’s content has large, measurable effects on behavior. And its readers are not just students doing homework or friends settling an argument. Research shows that Wikipedia content affects scientific literature, tourism, and even judges’ legal rulings. It seems that Wikipedia plays a big (if unacknowledged) role in keeping knowledge systems running. The same is surely true of every field of serious intellectual and political endeavor.

Long-term, targeted efforts in public awareness are critical in the fight to solve the climate crisis. And that’s where Wiki Education can help. Wiki Education has a proven track record of helping scientists communicate research to the public through Wikipedia. Although the site is familiar to millions of us on the front-end, adding new information that sticks is a whole other game. Wiki Education has more than 12 years of experience training 100,000+ students, professors, scientists, and subject matter experts how to do this work. And what makes us unique as an organization? Whatever topic we target, we can really boost.

Wikipedia is a powerful tool for public education. If you had power to wield such a tool, what would you use it for? Solving the world’s biggest problems? Yeah, us too. But even as Wikipedia is an incredible tool for climate education, with the rapid changes in our environment and the urgency to convey these new developments, the site needs help keeping climate and conservation science up-to-date and accurate. As the only organization worldwide systematically improving Wikipedia’s content at scale, this is our call to everyone across all disciplines to join us in the task.

As Shoukry writes in his COP27 address, “We as international community have agreed and recognized that the magnitude of the climate challenge requires an inclusive partnership and collaboration amongst all stakeholders to deliver the action we need now in a people-centered and an all-of-society approach that ensures that no one is left behind.”

Where better to bring the global community along in this fight than through Wikipedia? Let us show you how.

If you’re interested in improving a particular area of interest on Wikipedia related to climate change, Wiki Education has the resources and know-how you need to do it. Explore starting a Wikipedia Initiative with us. If you’re an instructor in higher education in the US or Canada, consider using our assignment templates to have students write Wikipedia articles.

Thumbnail image composit of logo by Wikimedia Foundation via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) and image by RCraig09 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).


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