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The Climate Change Curriculum: Part 1

We are dedicating two issues of Creative Teaching and Learning to exploring the beginnings of a new Climate Change Curriculum. This will be added to through a new zine of the website for future articles on the subject. The knowledgeBank contains a planning tool to organise your curriculum, and explores, with activities and challenges, the role food plays in undermining our ecology, the emergence of plastics as an issue and energy. T

Sue Lyle introduces the Climate Change Curriculum! – A special edition of Creative Teaching and Learning that responds to the legitimate concerns of children that the next big crisis, larger and more destructive than Covid 19, is the destruction of our environment

It is hard to live in the world and not be aware of Global Warming and Climate Change. We are all increasingly aware of the doom and gloom scenarios about the future of our planet as climate change accelerates. The serious impact on the world’s water systems through more flooding and drought; the impact on agriculture and our capacity to grow food; increase in wild-fires and loss of biodiversity. 

Much depends on the success or otherwise of COP26, which was to have taken place in Glasgow this year, but because of Coronavirus is postponed till 2021. The outcome of the American election in November will be very important, as the current president has declined to take part. The key players will be the EU and China as two of the three greatest producers of greenhouse gases. Britain, as hosts at Glasgow have a key role to play in the success of the talks and it will be a test for our post-Brexit relationship with the EU. 

Global issues aside, in Britain it is not an exaggeration to say our ecosystems are broken and nature is struggling – with 56% of species in the UK in decline and 15% threatened with extinction. Our naturally functioning ecosystems have declined so much they have almost disappeared. We have our own climate emergency that we must address. 

Whilst the facts of climate change are at last being reported, what is less well known is the impact climate change can have on our mental health. As the news about wildfires ravaging Australia and Amazonia become part of mainstream reporting, we see climate change happening in front of our eyes. The images of dead animals, dying coral reefs and flooded towns, villages and cities alongside reports of extreme weather events bear testimony every day to how climate change is impacting on people’s lives right now. And this is impacting on children and young people. 

In February young people from a new organisation, ‘Teach the Future’ went to parliament to demand reform to the education system in the UK. They want to repurpose the entire education system which means a review into how the current system is preparing for the climate emergency and ecological crisis. They propose changes to how climate education is provided in the UK: 

  • climate change and ecological crisis included in teacher training. 

  • an English climate emergency Education Act
  • a national Youth Climate Endowment Fund 
  • all new state-funded educational buildings to be net-zero from 2022. 
  • ‘Teach the Future’ research with students found the following: 
  • 4% of students feel they know a lot about the climate crisis.
  • 68% of students want to learn more about the environment’
  • 75% of teachers feel they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about climate change. 

This issue is a contribution to the young people’s demands. However, it is not just knowledge and understanding young people need. Psychologists have seen a rise in eco-anxiety. Eco-anxiety can cause sleepless nights and intense bouts of worry which can lead to changes in behaviour. Whilst some young people may be paralysed by anxiety others are taking a stand. Inspired by 17-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg youth are taking the fight against climate change seriously. 

And the good news is that climate change activism can reduce symptoms of mental ill-health among young people. In fact, headteachers and psychotherapists say that taking collective action can boost wellbeing. The impact of Covid-19 means young people’s opportunity for activism has been taken away. Youth strikes held the space for young people and now this outlet is gone schools will need to help them contain their anxiety. 

A constant diet of gloom and doom is not good for anyone. Instead, this issue is devoted to looking at understanding the problems and exploring solutions to climate change and how to prepare our children and young people for the future. We don’t want to deny what is happening. 

Young people want the truth, but we need to balance the bad stuff with the good that is happening so they can have hope for the future. Young people have a right to know what can be done and what part they can play to protect our planet and their own communities. 

This edition of CTL is therefore solution-focused, it looks at what we can do to deal with the climate emergency. When children and young people see the adults around them actively working for change it gives them hope that the world can respond to this crisis. 

What Can We Do? 

  • First, we need to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – power down. 
  • Second, we need to find alternatives to fossil fuels to power our lives -– power up. 
  • Finally, we need to drawdown the greenhouse gases we have already produced out of the atmosphere and into the earth – carbon extraction. 

Fortunately, we already know how we can do all of these things. We can power down by reducing emissions in lots of ways and that includes in our schools and our daily lives. We already have the technology to power up our world using renewable energy and the school can take this on board as well. 

We have a great natural system for drawing down greenhouse gases – the trees and green plants of the world drawdown carbon dioxide and in return give us oxygen. Most importantly, it is not all down to individual actions, we have to come together to embrace systemic change – national policy makers have to change. 

Solutions to Global Warming

It is important that our children and young people have hope for the future. It is too easy to tell children about the catastrophes and the media is increasingly doing that. Teenagers have access to literally millions of videos telling them they do not have a future. The rise of teenage activist, Greta Thurnberg, the Youth Global Strike movement and Teach the Future has done a fantastic job of raising awareness of what is happening and demanding that their learning reflects the severity of the climate crisis. 

Unfortunately, the gloom and doom scenarios so beloved of social media are being directly linked to the rise of mental health issues amongst children often caused by eco-anxiety. In these times we must help young people see that there are solutions and that some adults are working hard to change things. They also need to understand that they can be part of the change that is needed today. 

We know we have to move to a carbon neutral economy as fast as we can – we need a Zero Carbon Britain. This means transforming the ways we travel, the homes we live in, the food we eat, and how we generate electricity, how we use our land and how we consume the world’s resources. 

A big part of this issue is focused on solutions and this requires understanding of the interconnectedness of our world. Ironically, the Covid-19 crisis has shown us just how interconnected we are. 

An important source of information for this issue comes from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales. CAT has been at the forefront of thinking about how we transition towards a fully decarbonised society. Their latest report, “Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency” (2019) provides us with a guide and a promise that we can bequeath future generations a sustainable future.


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