The school climate conference on Wednesday, which was organised by the Green Schools Project, School 21, and WE, was designed "to provide rigorous knowledge, skills and motivation to allow young people to change the debate in their schools and local communities".
So how did they do?
Pretty well, I think – and judging by the enthusiasm of the students (aged 10 to 17) attending, very well.
What follows is about the first part of the morning.
We gathered appropriately enough in a Chemistry lecture theatre in UCL. There was an astonishingly out-of-date periodic table on the wall, c. 1965. Those arriving on time could watch Greta Thunberg via one of her TED X talks. Compelling, of course, but she's too clear-cut for my money. "There are no grey areas" is one of her favourite memes. But it's not true. Whilst the case for action is clear, what to do for the best, and how most appropriately to spend limited resources are not; grey areas aplenty here. Greta added: "We have the facts and solutions; all we need to do is to implement these." Well, only up to a point. Call me old fashioned, but where there is uncertainty, I really think we should admit it and try to set out its parameters.
Greta was followed by a no-grey areas cartoon from the Centre for a New American Dream. It had a slick slogan: "The GOOD life need not be a GOODS life" and was followed by a few simplistic generalisations (including, oddly, about the French). The problem here is not so much that these issues are not important to air – they are – but that the medium and timing doesn't allow for nuanced exploration. And that, of course, can be a general problem with one-off events such as this conference where the trade-off is in-depth exploration against wide surface coverage.
After a commendably brief and clear welcome and introduction, we began with 2 brief presentations and a rambling one.
The first was by Richard Dunne, headteacher of Ashley Primary School, who talked lucidly about his school's work where the 7 principles of Harmony are at its core. Convincing stuff in a curriculum framing sense, but as Paul Vare and I noted in our last book, Harmony (especially as espoused by the Prince of Wales) is not how the natural world really works – but that argument's for another day.
Richard was followed by a bloke from UEA (Rupert Read) who leapt onto the demonstration bench to shock us out of our complacency. I was relieved he didn't take his clothes off. Rupert is something of a Greta groupie and an XR member who could recently be found on Waterloo Bridge disrupting traffic. His key message for the young people gathered was that their leaders / parents / teachers / et al. (everybody except XR, that is) are failing them. "It's worse than you think", he said. "Have you a chance of a normal life, like your parents?", he added. "Will there be enough food?" A Malthusian, I thought. I felt like ending it all there and then, but the youth audience was made of stronger stuff. You need REAL HOPE he said – that is hope and action. Well, amen to that, brother. "Which rules will you break?", he said, adding that this was not an injunction to break the law. He then leapt off the bench. It was probably the most exciting thing ever to have happened in that lecture theatre.
I'll not say much about what Malini Mehra, the CEO of Global International Secretariat said because I lost the will to take notes after one too many anecdotes (she mentioned Mother Teresa a lot), and then I must have nodded off. I did stir myself, however, when she asked the audience how many of them were involved in school energy use monitoring. Astonishingly, no hands went up. No hands at all. *****! Eventually, she ended with: Learn – Talk – Act which seems a decent mantra provided we can all agree on what it is we have to do.
After that – the audience had listened quietly for an hour – we turned to something completely different: workshops focusing on communication and on preparing for action. More on all that later.