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Why We Should Teach Climate Change

Published • Blog
Luisa Stuart, English Teacher and Head of House at SFX, considers the importance of educating students about the climate crisis
At primary school I remember being given a little magnet that tested cans to see if they were recyclable or not. We gathered together all our aluminium cans at the end of half term and proudly had our photo taken by the local newspaper. I also remember adopting a whale and wearing a t-shirt which asked ‘Why should I tidy my room when the world’s in such a mess?’ But it turns out this wasn’t enough. It turns out that the world is in an even bigger mess than it was all those (many) years ago and neither wearing t-shirts with amusing slogans, adopting cute animals or recycling all the drinking receptacles I go through (oh and that is fair amount!) is going to make a big enough difference. Which is pretty depressing. I could turn vegan, never fly again and refuse to buy anything that has even looked at a piece of plastic and it would still not make the difference needed to stem the terrifying tide that is climate change and its consequences for our planet and the life of those who inhabit it, present and future. Which is really depressing. But there is one thing I can do. I can keep trying to do my best and I can teach others to do the same, and this last bit it is quite convenient as I happen to be a teacher.

Teaching about climate change is no longer about giving out magnets and explaining acid rain. It is about helping young people to deal with the fact that their future, and their children’s future should they choose to have them, is going to look different. One of two possible futures awaits them. In one future, those in charge of this planet have continued to fail to meet the targets given by scientists and the world will be struggling to cope with ever increasing environmental disasters leading to a lack of food and shelter across the world.  In the other future, those in charge of this planet will have taken the drastic measures needed to avoid a climate catastrophe and we will all be living very different lives. There could very well be no fast fashion, no cheap flights, no meat, no fish, no dairy.

As teachers we are constantly aware of our students’ needs. Having an understanding of climate change and its consequences is a need.  Our students need to understand that the burning of the Amazon is not just sad because animals will die. It’s not even just sad because people’s homes are there.  It is disastrous because the Amazon acts like the planet’s lungs and as it decreases so does its capacity to turn carbon into oxygen. It also regulates water, evaporating moisture and condensing it to rainfall; without it, water stresses will increase as the dry seasons get drier. There’s a tipping point they refer to as a forest dieback which is the point at which the forest cannot sustain itself and from that point on it won’t need us to burn it.  It’s complicated and terrifying and we can’t all be expected to understand and convey the scientific processes to our students but we should be expected to work with them and help them to understand the significance which is this global catastrophe.

This is not a task to be taken lightly. What this planet requires now is a generation conscious of its needs and with the energy to fight for and protect it; we cannot risk paralysing students with fear or nihilism. It’s not fair and it’s not their fault but if we and they don’t act none of that will matter.  As the climate crisis continues to grow and its consequences become more apparent, manifesting themselves more clearly in our everyday lives, there will be a growing need to support our young adults as they adapt to a changing world and a changing vision of their futures. This will impact their lives in so many different ways: from their mental health to their spending habits.

So, what can we do?

We can talk about it. It affects us too and many of us will be feeling the fatigue, guilt, grief and hopelessness that comes with the realisation that climate change is real and has real consequences. We shouldn’t hide this from students, or ourselves, but instead be honest and open about we are trying to do, or indeed what we cannot do.  We can talk about options and choices and educate ourselves and our students about the consequences of the choices we make. We can educate them about the power in their voices and their feet and their wallets.  There are many youth movements now that students can take part in and we should be encouraging them to take action as part of the global movement to fight climate change. By doing this, by teaching climate change in our lessons, we will be empowering our students and helping them to understand that they do have a voice and that that voice can be heard if shouted loud enough.