Business as Usual? Not quite that good.

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So, climate change is being lost from Key Stages 1 to 3 in UK schools.

What?! Is this the Age of Stupid?

Speaking as both a parent and as someone who has taught Geography for the past 15 years, this comes as bombshell.  A report this week outlines that debate on climate change could disappear for pupils under 14. What this could mean in reality is that a large proportion of school leavers will have little understanding of climate change, unless they opt for Geography or Chemistry at GCSE. Or unless they have a teacher keen to incorporate climate change in to lessons.

The enthusiasm, clarity and sense of purpose demonstrated by children wanting to ‘do something’ about climate change is the result of the knowledge they gain between the ages of 5 and 14. My own experience of running various ‘eco-clubs’ over the years has shown me that kids of this age are far more committed and motivated than older students, and much more likely to influence the behaviour of their parents. If you want a flavour of this, check out Eco-Schools.

Some of those agreeing with this loss to the curriculum suggest that a return to more basic understanding of geographical processes should be welcomed. Well, yes, to a point, but back in the late 70s and early 80s I seem to recall endless lessons about coal mining, hill farming, and aquifers. All important, but maybe now we have some new priorities to think about.

What is the purpose of Geography if not to make the connection between what people do and how it affects the environment (and vice versa) and how if differs from place to place? Learning about climate change is more than understanding the physical aspects and science of the greenhouse effect; it is about discussing the implications, debating the role of humans and Earth’s systems, and it is about our options and choices as a species. High tech, geo-engineering, renewables, the future of fossil fuels, appropriate technology, taxation, international agreements and treaties, carbon trading, grassroots responses, global inequality and resource depletion are all themes which the study of climate change can lend itself to, amongst many others.

I had a conversation with a student recently about the themes covered in Geography at A Level. She made the point that it was a bit depressing: ‘All the challenges like population and food supply, energy and global warming. Not very cheerful is it?’ Well, no, but the point is what you do with that knowledge. You could pretend it doesn’t exist (and hope it goes away on its own) or you could motivate the kids to act on it. Debates, projects, tree-planting, gardening, visits to inspirational locations; part of the deal is that responses and solutions are studied as well as the causes of the problems.

The importance of education on climate change was underlined in 2012 by UNESCO in this short film. It makes the case for an holistic approach in four minutes, and goes far beyond telling us to change our lightbulbs.

Taking climate change out of Geography for 5 to 14 year olds means that it becomes marginalised and slips down the agenda; becomes hidden. To me, it feels like denial that there’s a problem. Business as usual wasn’t great; this new shift seems like a trip back to those care-free, pre-climate change days in the 1980s.

In fact, it would seem that this is part of a much bigger issue. The environment loses out in times of economic hardship. It would appear that we have gone back in time with our concerns, despite two decades of growing awareness.

Just as politics is too important to be left to the politicians, so education is far too important to be left in the hands of the Department for Education. There’s a job to be done. We’re all educators now. It’s the future.


Get Back . . . to Resilience!

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Hats off to Geography Review.As a Geography teacher and afficionado, I do occasionally take a peek at the A Level quarterly publication. Often filled with fascinating articles on coastal erosion and glaciation, it is always in tune with some big issues. My interest was exacerbated recently when I noticed that the November 2011 issue contained some brilliant sections on peak oil, the impacts of climate change, and an article entitled ‘Eat Local?’ What really caught my eye was a double page spread on the meaning of resilience.

To me, resilience is a great word. Just saying it feels uplifting, especially when you reach (and stress) the second syllable. It always feels full of untapped possibilities and optimism. It is a word that wants to hang on in there and not let go.

Students seem to get it, by and large, provided it is discussed in the context of a real thing rather than just a concept. So, it can often crop up when looking at the ability of an area of countryside to cope with large numbers of tourists trampling over it, or a rural community dealing with the reality of drought and coming up with responses to get through it.

Anything that raises the profile of resilience has to be a good thing, so the fact that it was featured in the prestigious A level publication was very welcome. The article is called ‘Everybody’s talking about . . . Resilience’.   Resilience is defined as ‘an ability to leap back or rebound following a disruption or a disaster’. So far, so good. It then adds how ‘academics, business leaders and politicians now embrace the word as a catch-all way of characterising the capacity of societies, economies and environments to cope with diverse pressures in a high risk world.’ Well, partly, but not in the same way that ‘sustainable’ has been bandied around for the past twenty years.  Here’s what it looks like on the graph:

However, what else do we learn about resilience? Well, we need to proceed with caution as the article is focused upon a return to ‘normal’ conditions following a stress event of some kind. As shown in the diagram above, any response that deviates away from the ‘growth path’ is deemed ‘non-resilient’. The goal of restoration of ‘business as usual’ is regarded as the defining outcome for resilience, and this goal has been echoed over recent years since the 2008 economic crisis began: how do we get back to where we were before?  Ugg. The more important question should be how do we break away from looking at resilience in ways that cannot see further than ‘business as usual’?  The one silver lining to this cloud was that one strand of the resilience definition in the article suggests ‘the capacity to respond to a crisis through innovation or evolution – the outcome of the recovery process will be a different state from what existed before the crisis’. Ahh, this is more like it. This is the Transition angle on resilience at last. It does highlight the importance of being clear about what we mean by resilience, especially given our current state of economic meltdown. But, this graph model is still obsessed with the ‘growth path’ and is showing innovation leading to even higher levels of growth than existed prior to the crash.  David Holmgren discusses a variety of potential future scenarios in his book, Future Scenarios (very apt title, no?) There are parallels here with his ideas, except there is no investigation of what this ‘innovation or evolution’ might look like. In Future Scenarios, this future scenario is the permaculture/transition to a low energy society.  Working on the second draft of Worthing’s EDAP has raised the question of what do we actually mean by resilience. Is it to ‘get back to where you once belonged’? And if so, where is that? What is ‘normal’? Is there a difference between what is desirable and what is possible? We need to be clear about resilience as being a defining characteristic of a community or society within an energy descent future. In other words, a future which has seen a real shift away from the business as usual model, or even business as usual with a few tweaks (aka ‘greenwash’).  The moral of the story? We need to be careful to explain what we mean by resilience to avoid it losing its importance in the area of energy descent. Making this really clear by bringing in some resilience indicators would help, and they will look very different to our business-as-usual ways of measuring where we are on this graph.  Finally then, anyone fancy having a go at re-wording the lyrics to Get Back to an energy descent theme? No? Oh well.