Today's post: Taking the Long View: a 25 year environment plan for the UK? is by the regular guest contributor, Steve Martin.
Theresa May and Michael Gove took time out last week, to visit the Wetlands Centre , in London to “launch” a long overdue 25 year environment plan for the UK. Long overdue, because, all of the previous administrations, since 2009, have failed miserably to make any substantive policy announcements on any aspect of the environment. And, more crucially have said nothing on our increasingly irresponsible and unsustainable way of life and living in this country.
So, photo shoot for the PM and the Secretary of State for the Environment, in one of the UK’s most prestigious wetland and educational conservation centres along with some animated children from a local school... What’s not to like? Press pictures and video clips set the scene, the PM holding binoculars, enclosed by the children, pointing out the wild birds, the PM, commenting” there a lot of them aren’t there”, and Michael Gove, silent and bespectacled, taking up the rear. But what were the politicians really thinking? Was the PM, holding her binoculars, thinking, as one sarcastic commentator suggested “I need a policy?” And, Mr Gove;”and, I’m looking to become Prime Minister!” More importantly did they get the link between conservation and education?
Seriously, though, the “plan”, albeit framed by lofty rhetoric, was littered with vague aspiration and no detail and no teeth. It was largely, if not exclusively aimed at the current popular and highly relevant concern for our plastic filled oceans, highlighted by the TV series, Blue Planet 2; and, targeted younger voters too.
But, the plan contained no serious statement on education and its role in supporting and facilitating informed understanding about our unsustainable behaviour and actions and its impact on the planetary systems, which sustain all life. All of this highlighted the destructive and shameful way that Michael Gove handled environmental issues in the School curriculum, when Secretary of State for Education. What form of leadership does this misplaced ideology convey to the younger generation and those that teach them?
Overall, I was pleased that Theresa May and Michael Gove have launched a national plan, but it needs to address some fundamental concerns about how our education system, can support the government’s serious and laudable objective of leaving the planet in a better place than it found it. It cannot and must not depend solely on what some have described as “toothless voluntarism”. There is a place for promoting some form of “collectivism” by schools, universities and colleges, but it needs a clear and unambiguous policy mandate that builds on the undoubted and deeply serious commitment of teachers and learners to a system-wide process that supports a more sustainable future for all.
Steve Martin is Honorary Professor at the University of Worcester, Visiting Professor in Learning for Sustainability at the University of the West of England, President of the charity Change Agents UK, a WWF Fellow, Policy Advisor to the UK National Commission for UNESCO, and a founder member of the English Learning for Sustainability Alliance (ELSA). He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org