Teach the Future and Friends of the Earth
In many ways, the past 12 months feel like a whirlwind of positive action within the climate movement, much of which was unimaginable this time last year. The UK Parliament declared a national climate emergency. Greta Thunberg has become a household name. And the upsurge in activism led by Extinction Rebellion and the student movement is inspiring to say the least – an estimated 7 million young people worldwide took to the streets in September 2019 to demand decisive action on climate breakdown.
Attitudes towards the climate emergency are changing too. More than 50% of people in a recent poll expressed their support for drastic action to address the crisis.
And to top it off, in early November Collins Dictionary announced its word of the year for 2019: "climate strike".
With political parties juggling net zero carbon emission targets in the run up to the General Election, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was all moving in the right direction.
But another word that has emerged in our vocabulary in 2019 is ”eco-anxiety”, and our young people are suffering from it in increasing numbers. They understand the severity of the crisis, and they hear world leaders praising their passion and commitment, but they don’t see leaders "acting like their house is on fire".
Meanwhile, of those made ill, injured or killed by climate change to date, over 80% of the victims are children. Silence from adults conveys a sense of fatalism and indifference to children, but it doesn’t shield them from the truth. No wonder young people are scared.
We need to plan for a net zero future. That means drastically cutting emissions as soon as possible. And it also means developing the skills and knowledge that a zero-carbon future will require, to ensure that young people growing up now are equipped for what the coming years will bring.
Our current education system is woefully inadequate in addressing the climate and ecological crisis. Back in February, the then Prime Minister Theresa May famously told striking kids to stop wasting lesson time and get back to the classroom. The fact is, since changes to the national curriculum in 2013, schools are not required to teach about climate breakdown. Our young people are leaving school with qualifications that will not serve them and aspirations that will not be possible in a future that now appears inevitable. For example, college plumbing courses are not teaching how to install low carbon heating systems; catering colleges are not covering sustainable diets; and our wellbeing and citizenship programmes are not supporting young people to talk about their anxiety and grief at the state of the planet, nor do they help them develop the tools and resilience to face an uncertain future.
Even our Science and Geography lessons barely touch on the extent of the crisis and the systemic solutions required to fix it. Young people graduating from school and college in 2019 would be forgiven for believing that two parallel universes existed – the one in the classroom and the one increasingly apparent on the news.
The "Teach the Future" campaign, spearheaded by the UK Student Climate Network, SOS-UK and Extinction Rebellion Educators and supported by Friends of the Earth, demands a Climate Emergency Education Act and a review into climate education across the curriculum, as well as teacher training to ensure these changes can be delivered effectively. It demands funding for youth-led environmental action (we’ve all seen the impact that can have), and that all school buildings transition quickly to net zero models.
In my experience, most children already have a far more grown-up attitude to the climate and ecological crises than many adults.
But we owe our young people an education that will prepare them for the adult future they are facing, one that will be quite different from that experienced by adults today. They deserve to be told the truth, and given the skills and support they will need to navigate the unprecedented decades ahead. Find out more about Teach the Future.