Climate Change and Education


She is on strike, refusing to go to school…

On 25 July, Europe from Spain northwards burned. Europeans sweltered, hiding behind closed air-conditioned doors or splashing in pools and rivers.

The heatwave broke records across the continent: France 42.6ºC, Netherlands 39.4ºC, and Germany 41.5ºC, even Britain registered it highest July temperature.

The day before in the British heatwave, the Queen turned on an air cooler, no air-conditioning in Buckingham Palace, so that Boris Johnson would not sweat too much as he greeted her with his request to form a new government!

In the Swiss Alps, a massive undertaking to cover the melting Rhone Glacier with white plastic sheets has been undertaken. Laughable really, like sticking plasters being applied to the sides of the sinking Titanic.

Meanwhile today (26 July), to hearten the climate change deniers, the Tour de France was stopped on the descent of the Col d’Iseran (2,764 metres) due to a freak snowfall-cum-hailstorm. Yet in 1911 when the Col du Galibier (2,642 metres) was first used in the Tour de France, all but two men had to walk up it as roadside snowdrifts over six feet high lined the route near the top! Everywhere I look things are getting hotter and it is easy to see why. The Chinese have in less the thirty years moved from being a nation of cyclists to the greatest car owners in the world. The number of cars in China has risen dramatically and India is following suit.  In 1990, China had only about 6 million cars. Today, the number of cars has surpassed 340 million. The equatorial forests are being cut down by logging companies at unbelievable rates. About 3,050 square miles of equatorial forest, our best defence against the tyrannous dioxide of carbon, was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon in the year ending July 2018. The worst annual deforestation rate in a decade. In Russia, the tundra is melting and releasing the even more dangerous global-warming methane gas. And the polar ice cap, which in 1845 mortally gripped Sir John Franklin and his doughty crew and reflected sunlight away from the Earth, is now almost non-existent in summer.

The list of unfavourable human-induced actions is getting longer.

We have too much at stake to worry about the environment, too much invested in climate-unfriendly industries. Products – from plastic bottled water to gas-guzzling and air polluting cars, coupled services like air travel, and the imminent prospect of space tourism which will add millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

We take trillions of simple actions like running an air-conditioner, or flying somewhere, but we do not pay the true price. The environment and everyone else suffers. We need to free ourselves and take hard decisions which will cost money and slow economies.  If you are marching to the edge of a cliff, perhaps slowing down is not a bad idea.

While these ideas may seem a bit far-fetched, John F Kennedy set the USA challenge on May 25, 1961 in his speech before a Joint Session of Congress to put a man on the moon. Is there no leader who can not set our pulses racing with an ambitious challenge to turn the tide of global warming? Somehow, we need to pull back, pause, and stop growing.

Recently, Rutger Bregman wrote ‘The Solution to Everything: Work Less’. In the same spirit, he notes that that our work-life balance is too unevenly positioned.

Europe listened briefly when fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg wondered why bother to learn anything in school if politicians won’t pay attention to the facts? She was on strike, refusing to go to school until Sweden’s general election in order to draw attention to the climate crisis. She said, ‘I am doing this because nobody else is doing anything. It is my moral responsibility to do what I can. I want the politicians to prioritise the climate question, focus on the climate and treat it like a crisis.’

Education is important.

The world listened to fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai who the Taliban had shot in an attempt to stop her going to school. She was not to be deterred. After several operations and with her determination to show that she stood up for girls being educated, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.  She said, ‘They shot my friends, too. They [the Taliban] thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.

I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here [UN Building in New York] to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists.’

Perhaps with youth such as these two we have a chance, but for how long will the bravado of youth be understood?  How long before we resume our inevitable path to self-interested destruction?




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