Pete Milne looks at how the climate crisis has accelerated in 2019, and how education is playing an increasingly critical role in creating solutions.
Meeting those goals
So we have finally reached a new decade and time is ticking even louder. The groundwork that we lay down this new decade will determine whether or not we are able to meet the goal in 2050 of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
We have already witnessed in the last 10 years (the warmest decade in recorded history) the devastating effects of climate change. Superstorm Sandy caused more than $ 70 billion worth of damages in the United States. Cities like Cape Town, South Africa nearly ran out of water. Record floods killed 1,300 people in India and Pakistan. Fires burned more than 22 million acres (9 million hectares) in California, Amazonia and most recently Australia destroying forests, homes, animals and human lives.
Watch the video made by YRE Alumni Kristin Rodrigo from Canada, based on materials delivered by BREEF (member of FEE) from The Bahamas, about the impact of hurricane Dorian
Wake up moment
The beginning of the new decade is a wake-up moment, as a powerful combination of science and social science, and citizen activism has pushed climate and environmental change – or emergency – to the top of public, media, policy and political concern.
Spurred on by youth actions across the globe, inspired by Greta Thunberg and others who are voicing their concerns about the future of the planet, many of these activists aren’t just demanding climate action; they’re fighting for justice. Climate change is inherently an issue of inequality: The world’s richest 10% produce half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest feel the impacts most acutely.
Greta Thunberg (Young Climate Activist) at the Climate Action Summit 2019 – Official Video
The role of education
And education is playing an increasingly critical role in raising that consciousness and creating sustainable solutions for the future of our planet. From the experiences I have had of working in many schools globally, I have noticed a greater interest and concern in taking on sustainability issues; whether within the school itself, the local community or supporting international projects.
However, the challenges remain the same.
- Time pressures on an increasingly busy and demanding school year
- Whole school engagement
- Curriculum integration
- Staff development and support
Making it personal
The starting point is to make this personal. Thinking of loved ones, whether family or friends, and imagining how the world could be in their lifetime and the lifetimes of future generations.
- How basic rights, including the rights to health, nutrition, shelter, safe water and access to necessary resources and social structures that take care of and support all elements of the ecosystem, are being impacted already
- How things could worsen in the future as a result of the climate crisis worsening.
- How we are damaging vital ecosystems across the globe that we depend on and that support so many species now under serious threat of extinction.
Making it personal helps to motivate not only a desire to learn and understand more, but the motivation and desire to do something about it.
Focus and purpose
However, there has to be a clear focus on, support for and commitment to climate change and sustainability education throughout a whole school community; not as an add on but as a core purpose. This purpose must embrace the connectivity of all of the 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a way to develop caring and informed global citizens who can make a real positive difference to the future. Empowered teachers and students, through opportunities to learn and share ideas, can then help their schools to develop a more effective framework to take forward because they genuinely want to.
So, as an educator or school leader, you need to take a good look at where you are as an individual and as a school.
- Is this area of education getting enough time, both through the curriculum as well as through events and training?
- Are students getting the opportunities to turn awareness into greater understanding, motivation and action?
- How far are you reaching out to support and network with other local schools and organisations?
- How engaged is the whole school community with the climate crisis and the SDGs?
The Attenborough view
In the words of Sir David Attenborough, when he was recently interviewed by the BBC, “We have to realise that this is not playing games. This is not just having a nice little debate, arguments and then coming away with a compromise.
This is an urgent problem that has to be solved and, what’s more, we know how to do it – that’s the paradoxical thing, that we’re refusing to take steps that we know have to be taken.” Sir David is certainly an inspiration, but it is time to help inspire each other and to make sure this decade is the one where we turned things around rather than failed.
Peter Milne is the Founder/Director of Target4Green. He has had over 25 years’ experience as a teacher and educational consultant, working mainly in science, environmental, global citizenship and outdoor education in the UK, Malaysia and the UAE. Based in the UK now, he works with whole school communities across the world, running workshops, assemblies and staff training, as well as offering remote and in-school consultancy, on climate change and sustainability education as well as global citizenship.
Peter is also the creator, organiser and facilitator of the Beyond COP21 Symposium series
Support Images: contributed by Pete Milne