Motivation to tackle climate change will not be the same if we think we are fighting for the survival of the polar bear as if we realise this about saving the human race.
Such was the argument put by ecologist Alistair Taylor, Head of Secondary at Inspired’s PaRK International school in Lisbon in a webinar on Education and the Push for a Sustainable Environment, when insisting that school children should be presented with the hard facts so they can fully comprehend the drastic consequences of inaction in the next 30 to 40 years regarding the environment.
“Rather than talk about saving the planet, we should talk about saving ourselves,” he said during the first ever Inspired Student Leadership Conference to mark World Earth Day, in which King’s College Madrid (Soto) participated along with eight other schools.
The focus of the two-day online convention was, of course, sustainability, which is moving fast to the top of the political agenda as the Covid crisis appears to be easing and the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow looms.
But as governments across the globe juggle pledges to cut carbon emissions and commit to energy transition, a number of fundamental questions remain unanswered.
For example, are we ready to switch to a cleaner energy system and maintain our current standard of living with a stable power supply? And how do we crack the hardest nut of all: decarbonizing the making of cement and steel and petrochemicals?
According to physicist Patrick Reilly, who gave a webinar at the conference entitled Engineers, Scientists and Mathematicians – Solving the Climate Problem, it is people in his field rather than the politicians who will come up with the solutions to problems such as how to store energy, which is crucial if we are to ditch the fossil fuels that account for 85% of the current set up.
Energy is the biggest industry in the world, worth trillions of euros, driving everything we do in our daily lives. Try living without electricity for a day as happened in some areas of Spain during the historic Filomena blizzard earlier this year and we start to grasp just how dependent we are on this power flow.
No coffee or toast for breakfast, no heating, no light, no radio, TV or screens, no hot food, no hot water bottle. Currently, 800 million people in the world live like this.
But contamination from electricity and transport is the tip of the iceberg, accounting for just 20% of the problem; the aforementioned industrial heat, deforestation and intensive agriculture are the other big culprits.
To mark World Earth Day 2021, PSHE coordinator at King’s College Madrid (Soto), Sylvain Warton, discussed with her secondary students how they felt about the fact that eating less meat and dairy is the single biggest contribution we can make to saving our planet – or ourselves, as Alistair Taylor prefers to put it.
“It triggered a lot of meaningful reflection and has made them understand the link between what's on our plates and environmental issues,” says Sylvain. “Some students mentioned the fact that they would be happy to reduce their meat and fish intake as it didn't seem to be too much of a sacrifice.”
Within schools, Alistair Taylor suggested 10 initiatives that could have a dramatic impact on our mind sets, including the role of staff teaching by example on questions of waste; opportunities for real, as opposed to virtual, encounters with nature; and libraries filled with books such as There is no Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years by Mike Berners-Lee.
But the ecologist also stressed that the environment is not a political issue; “Political bias should be removed from the discussion,” he said. Rather students should be taught to accurately assess the information they receive, so they make substantiated decisions, not only on an individual basis but later in their lives on a broader plane, when perhaps making business or administrative choices.
Showcasing a microcosm of a sustainable world at the conference was former Induction English teacher at King’s College Madrid, Izabella Hearn, who is also a founding member of the NGO, Friends of Nyumbani.
Nyumbani Village began as a children’s home for AIDs orphans and was set up by US Jesuit priest, Angelo D’Agostino, in 1992 in eastern Kenya. Over the years, with the help of ‘friends’ such as King’s College, it has almost achieved self-sufficiency, with houses made from interlocking local brick, solar power and community reservoirs, which King’s College’s annual Walk for Water has helped to finance.
“Everything is made in the village for the village if possible,” said Izabella in her webinar, Passion for Change. The village training centre for carpentry, masonry, welding and tailoring means that furniture and clothes are made on site; food is grown in the village greenhouses, and sustainable tree plantations are being developed as a sustainable source of income.
Considering the arid landscape where Nyumbani is located, there were plenty of naysayers back in the 1990s that believed the project to be impossible. But, as Izabella told her audience, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” a quote from Walt Disney.
Forming their own microcosm of a global think tank, the students at the conference then laid out their dreams for a more sustainable future and discussed how they might lead the charge in making those dreams come true.