How will these resources help you?

The systems approach is embedded across A-level geography specifications, encouraging students to think about how different elements of the system are interrelated and interdependent. It needs to be introduced from the start and used as a conceptual framework throughout. The first book gives a fantastic overview of the climate emergency for all readers, and the second focuses in on the elements A-level geography students need. The third gives students the opportunity to learn about the carbon cycle, which underpins climate change, as a system. The final resource is aimed at teachers who are interested in developing their own understanding of the systems approach in order to improve their teaching. The further materials include examples of how systems thinking has made a difference in real world contexts. 

Climate science, systems and so much more!

The Climate Book

by Greta Thunberg et al, published by Penguin, (2022), 9780241547472

Thunberg brings over 100 experts together to explore the climate emergency from perspectives including geophysics, oceanography, meteorology, engineering and more. The first part looks at ‘how climate works’, setting out the background to climate change. The chapter on ‘tipping points and feedback loops’ by Johan Rockström is particularly useful for showing how we are overburdening the system and the impact this is likely to have. Feedback loops can cause confusion among A-level geography students, so this clear and informative chapter is very helpful. Both students and teachers will benefit from either dipping into or reading the whole of this beautifully presented book, which I would like to see in school libraries across the world.

What do A-level geographers need to know about the climate crisis?

Top Spec Geography: The Climate Crisis

by Kate Stockings and Tim Daley, published by the Geographical Association, (2022), 9781843775393

Top Spec geography books from the Geographical Association are aimed at A-level students but are also useful reading for teachers wanting to improve their subject knowledge. This book is co-authored by the Deputy Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute, and a teacher and head of geography in an 11-18 comprehensive school. While Daley brings his climate science expertise, Stockings ensures this is clearly communicated in a way that is useful to A-level students. As in A-level specifications, this book takes a systems approach to the climate emergency, looking at how the carbon cycle changes over time and the impact these changes have, developing students’ understanding of this complex topic.

How does the carbon cycle operate as a system?

The Carbon Cycle

by Rob Bircher, published by the Geographical Association, (2021)

Geography Education Online (GEO) has resources that GCSE and A-level geography students can use independently. This one focuses on the carbon cycle, starting with the stores of carbon in the system and then considering how carbon flows between these stores in the slow and fast carbon cycles. Stores and flows are then combined to look at the carbon cycle as a system. This resource combines texts, links to videos and diagrams to develop students’ understanding, with questions included to challenge their thinking. Understanding the carbon cycle is crucial to understanding climate change, as minimising carbon emissions and maximising carbon sinks underpins management of change. 

Delving deeper into systems thinking

Tackling wicked problems in strategic management with systems thinking

by Sylvia Grewatsch et al, published by Strategic Organization/Sage, (2021)

This academic paper is ideal for teachers who want to delve deeper into the systems approach in relation to ‘wicked problems’ such as climate change. The abstract introduces the idea in relation to socio-economic issues, exploring complexity rather than taking a reductionist approach. The systems approach is then explained in detail, linking to tipping points and transformative change, with examples from the climate crisis used to illustrate points. With so much emphasis on taking a systems approach across all A-level geography topics, this is very useful reading for teachers.

Podcast episode

RETEACH GEOGRAPHY - Kate Stockings on using scholarship in lessons


Head of Geography Kate Stockings shares her experience in using scholarship sources in lessons to familiarise students with scientific literature and keep her subject knowledge up to date. She also talks about how she came to be one of the authors of the Geographical Association's Top Specs series, and how this enabled her to address Climate Change in a student-friendly way. Hosted by Kit Marie Rackley.

Podcast episode

RETECH HISTORY - Kate Hawkey on Environmental History


Bristol University Senior Lecturer and PGCE Programme Lead Kate Hawkey discusses why the traditional History curriculum should include topics like climate change and offers pointers for enhancing teachers' subject knowledge on the matter, along with case studies to spark students' interest. This episode could be the basis for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Further materials

Systems thinking as a pathway to global warming beliefs and attitudes through an ecological worldview by Matthew T. Ballew et al, published by PNAS, (2019) Access this resource
Case study 12: Joining-up air quality and climate change policies by Systems thinking case study bank, published by Government Office for Science, (2022) Access this resource
These young people are solving 'wicked problems' with circular solutions by Deonna Anderson, published by GreenBiz, (2022) Read this article
The Wicked Problem of Global Food Security by Rebecca Boger, Rusty Low and Amy Potter, published by InTeGrate Access this resource
Catherine Owen is Head of Geography at The King Alfred School an Academy, a CGeog and a Geographical Association Consultant. She writes and presents for OUP, Hodder Geography, Tutor2U and more.

Text © Catherine Owen, 2022-2023