2019 saw multiple ‘School Strikes for the Climate’ across the UK demanding ‘urgent action’ from the government to deal with the ‘climate emergency’. This is part of an international campaign led by 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, with more action planned for 2020.
Many welcome the protests as a healthy sign of youthful political activism, especially over what is reported as the most important issue facing humanity. Many young people have taken at face value headlines such as ‘We have 12 years to limit climate catastrophe’ from the UN’s 2018 report, or the suggestion that we’ve already crossed ‘tipping points’ for the climate.
Not surprisingly, children have reacted with alarm. As UK spokesperson for the Strike, Lottie Tellyn told the BBC: “If we don’t strike now, then we are getting educated for a future that we don’t know is going to exist”.
However, others are concerned that apocalyptical messages are being taken too literally by protesters, and often reinforced by schools and a curriculum that presents humans as having only a negative impact on the environment.
Of course, schools must prepare children for the future world that they will inherit. But how can they do this positively, offering children a sense of hope, when society appears to be experiencing its own existential crisis about the future?
So, how should schools and teachers respond to the ‘climate emergency’, and discuss with pupils potentially scary scenarios of global warming? Should schools encourage children to adopt more environment-friendly lifestyles and take action to arrest climate change? Or would this mean schools crossing a line from education to political activism, and does this matter?