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Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Yano — Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

How our kids can save the planet

Posted on 13th November, 2012 | filed under Education, Featured

Children collecting plastic water bottles

Read any news about the environment and it’s a confusing mass of contradictory claim and counter claim but our children can help. It’s not just that the future is in their hands, says Michael Donlevy. They will soon be better informed than we are

There is a very good reason why: our children’s lives will be more closely intertwined with the effects of climate change than those of any generation in modern history. But also, on a more practical level, kids are already being taught the right things about recycling and energy efficiency.

‘Climate change is in the National Curriculum for Years 7 to 11,’ says Amanda Matthews, a science teacher at a London girls’ school. ‘The children study causes and effects, comparisons with the past and predictions for the future. We also discuss the effect of humans on the environment and how we can change our lives to lessen the effects. Year 9 students design and create a “house for the future”, employing the renewable energy resources discussed in class. This really engages the girls and gets them to think about how different energy sources might be used.’

But more can be done. ‘The National Curriculum is under review and it’s hard to see where environmental issues fit,’ says Cherry Duggan, head of schools and youth relations at the WWF UK. ‘The government doesn’t want to “own” the sustainability agenda in schools; its position is that schools should drive it themselves. There’s a lot of merit in this, but we’d like to see government having a stronger stance. Beyond this, many organisations have some great projects available for schools. For example, our own Green Ambassadors scheme aims to inspire and support pupils in green teams to lead environmental projects.’

Not that this is an excuse for you, as a parent, to do nothing. You still need to educate yourself so you can help arm children with the facts. The UN Climate Change Summit takes place in Qatar from 26 November until 7 December – and that’s a lot of time to, no doubt, get not a lot done. It’s been 25 years since the Montreal Protocol was signed to put an end to the CFC gases that destroyed the ozone layer. But now, the threat is from their replacement. HFC gases are contributing to climate change that will affect everyone and everything on this planet.

Take the sea. You probably don’t think much about it unless you’re swimming in it on your holidays – and that’s part of the problem. ‘A big issue is ignorance,’ says Paul Cox, head of learning and science at the National Marine Aquarium. ‘The big threats, such as climate change, pollution and over-fishing, get ignored if people don’t know about them.’ And don’t for one minute think that because it’s all happening out there in the ocean it doesn’t matter to us, because carbon emissions are a massive threat. ‘Half of the oxygen we breathe comes from plankton,’ says Cox. ‘If marine life is at risk, so is all life.’

Global warming is the biggest threat, despite what the disbelievers may tell you. Human activities such as burning fossil fuels and producing CO2 have polluted the atmosphere and accelerated climate change. ‘Global warming has existed since the beginning,’ says Jim Dale, senior risk meteorologist at British Weather Services. ‘It’s a slow process unless there’s a big event such as a volcanic explosion or a comet hitting Earth. But the current pattern is towards a rapid shift. Temperatures have gone up quickly over the past 100 years, and particularly the past 20 to 30.’

Education is the key. ‘We need to be educated about climate change so it becomes a bigger story in the media,’ says Dale. ‘A topless royal doesn’t make any difference to our existence. By learning about the threats, we’ll be better placed to influence politicians and their policies.’ Some scientists predict that global warming will have wiped out a third of all species by 2050. This loss of biodiversity could cause an ecological collapse.

Animals are under threat for lots of reasons. ‘Sadly, the more rare the animal, the greater its value on the illegal market,’ says Steve Backshall, presenter of TV’s Deadly 60. Animals are hunted for fur, hide, teeth, bones or anything that can be claimed as a trophy, but also for practical reasons. ‘Animals are in danger wherever there is conflict or famine,’ says Backshall. ‘Try telling a man in Congo that chimps or gorillas are under threat when he has a family to feed. Another problem is traditional Chinese medicine, a multi-billion dollar industry that uses a phenomenal number of exotic animals.’

‘Governments are realising they can gain status by taking part in conservation efforts,’ Backshall says, so now is the time for you and your kids to put pressure on them. You can sign petitions, pledge money, make a noise and show your support. There are thousands of charities, so just check out their history and how they spend their money.

‘The key is to get children outdoors, connecting with nature,’ says Duggan. ‘Lots of children have a natural empathy with nature, but sometimes lack the opportunity or inclination. Again, there are some great activities on offer from different environmental and youth organisations: WWF’s Go Wild children’s membership, for example, offers stories, facts, games and activities relating to the issues we work on around the world.’

As Backshall says, ‘Politicians make the big decisions, but they are guided by the people who vote for them.’ That will be your children, soon.

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How our kids can save the planet was posted on 13th November, 2012 by Michael Donlevy under Education, Featured

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Michael Donlevy

About the author: Michael Donlevy

Writing was in my blood from as early as I can remember; parenting took longer to come to me. I come from a creative family – my grandad was an opera singer, for example, although that particular gene skipped my generation – and I always loved writing and drawing, so a career in the creative industries was all I ever wanted. And I have been lucky. I have worked on men’s and women’s lifestyle magazines, with a particular slant on sport, health and fitness… genuine lifestyle stuff. I had two stints on men’s magazine Maxim, latterly as Editor, but probably the most fun I had in a full-time job was as Deputy Editor of Men’s Fitness for four years, interviewing sports stars and writing contentious features about things like government health policy, dodgy food labelling and fast food companies sponsoring sport (it’s a good thing, so long as you don’t eat the stuff). More recently I have worked in a freelance capacity, particularly for Flipside, a science and tech-based magazine for teenagers. As well as writing a lot about sport, I also indulge my other great passion – entertainment – as Flipside’s Reviews Editor. So what do I know about parenting? Good question, and one that maybe you should ask my ten-year-old son! He is, of course, my big work in progress. It’s important to me that I try to be the best dad I can and teach him the right things, but also that I learn from him too. I love the fact that parenting is a two-way process. Oh, I also manage a website called realbirthcompany.co.uk – which runs antenatal classes for mums and dads-to-be. The fact that my wife is a midwife probably explains why I know more than most men would ever wish to about pregnancy, birth and caring for a newborn. It hasn’t put me off, and I haven’t passed out either. Yet…
  • Julie Brown

    I totally agree that education is the key. At Practical Action we produce a range of resources around climate change for primary and secondary students thathelp students understand the impact of their actions on the developing world as well as their own. Please do have a look at our resources http://bit.ly/OJYugI

    For something a bit different how about a tube map that shows which parts of the London underground will be underwater by 2100 if we don’t tackle climate change? http://bit.ly/SYULgT Free to download we will also be giving these out at a climate change stunt on the London underground on 15th November as part of our #adaptnow campaign.

  • http://rossmountney.wordpress.com/ Ross Mountney

    Brilliant post! we’ve been so lucky as home educating parents to really make sure we raised awareness of climate and ecology issues with our kids and kept them in close contact with the earth, where their food comes from, and how to respect the resources it gives us. They got dragged outdoors a lot! That’s the beauty of home educating – you really get to educate about the most important issues which sometimes schools disregard in favour of grade winning!