Learning about the climate: the Earth

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

I gave a talk the other day to an attentive and appreciative group of PGCE geography students.  I did this from home, of course, using a rather slick platform that I never quite learned the name of.

Although the talk was about climate, environment and the curriculum and what we might now be helping young people learn, I took a 60 year perspective: from Rachel Carson to Greta Thunberg – and emphasised the similarities and differences of these two influential but controversial icons.  This long view took in environmental education's modern beginnings in the 1960s, its 1970s golden age, the disaster in the 1980s wrought by the English national curriculum, its 1990's sidelining as a cross-curricular theme, the false promise of the sustainable schools initiative in the 2000s, the neglect of the coalition years in the 2010s, and recent phenomena such as the Friday climate strikes and student activism through Teach the Future.  I set all this against the backcloth of all those conferences, world summits and international agreements, culminating in Paris and the SDGs.  I then explored the question of what students might be learning about the climate and climate change, using the ideas developed working with NAEE.

When I'd done all that, I then set out what I thought about a number of issues to do with climate, environment and the curriculum.  I did this so that the students could see my thinking and assumptions about the issues.  I stressed that they did not have to accept what I thought, but that there was an imperative on them to have their own views on these topics.  I confined myself to 5 topics which were: The Earth; Young people; Schools; Curriculum organisation; Curriculum progression.  This is what I said about the Earth:

 –  The Earth is not dying
  – We are not doomed
  – But the environmental problems we face are considerable and unprecedented
  – International agreement is necessary but difficult
  – Adaptation and mitigation will be complex, expensive and controversial
  – Massive socio-economic shifts are likely to be necessary, and not everyone will be happy about these
  – Hope and determination need to triumph over gloom and anxiety.
It's not much of a coverage: only a sketch of a sketch, perhaps, but it was enough for one P.pt slide.  I did not go into detail about any of this, just letting the students read the slide and ask questions if they wanted to – which they did.  Perhaps I should have mentioned the disagreements over timescales for adaptation (though I did this in another part of the talk), or the need for careful reform of our economic system (though the students did).  Next time, perhaps.

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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  • I am pleased to see you gave a talk about positive realism in a time of needed change. While urgency is required I find myself perturbed by the non-stop messaging of fear and doom, which seems less about getting people to think and more about getting people to jump on a band-wagon of dubious popularism.