Learning about sustainable living needs to be at the heart of the curriculum

sustainable living

It hasn’t — for obvious reasons — received the coverage it properly warrants this week, but the UN’s latest assessment of the impact of climate change is deeply disquieting. We should guard against overuse of phrases such as ‘existential threat’, but in this case it seems entirely appropriate. One of the report’s starkest — and darkest — conclusions is that many of the effects of climate change are now irreversible. Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and heatwaves are on the increase and causing ever more serious damage and destruction and loss of life and livelihoods. There is, the report says, still a small window of opportunity, a chance to avoid the worst-case scenarios. And that’s why nature, the environment and sustainability needs to be at the heart of the curriculum so that children and young people learn about the urgent environmental issues that confront us, and about actions that we can all take to help alleviate those problems.

This week’s report is the second part of the assessment by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It covers the impact of climate breakdown and sets out ways we might adapt and protect against some of these impacts.

Key findings include the following:

  • Climate-related impacts are at the high end of modellers’ expectations and are happening more quickly than expected
  • Around 40% of the world’s population is “highly vulnerable” to the impact of climate change
  • Some technologies designed to limit global heating or reduce greenhouse gas emissions could make matters worse rather than better
  • The climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and poverty and global inequality are all interlinked

The first part of the IPCC’s assessment was published ahead of COP26, held in Glasgow in November 2021. It focused on the physical science of climate change. A third part will look at ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The fourth and final part will be a summary, published ahead of the COP27 climate summit due to be held in Egypt in November.

When COP26 opened we wrote that it is time “to think about our children and young people — and, in turn, their children and their children’s children. The state of the planet they will inhabit. The future they will inherit.”

A truly imaginative approach to COP26 will put education at the heart of its legacy planning, looking again at what we are teaching our children so that environmental education isn’t just another box-ticking bolt-on, achieved via a few science lessons and an awareness-raising day once or twice a year, but an integral part of the curriculum.

COP26 is another London Olympics moment for the UK

The landmark 2021 UK Treasury review of the cost of humanity’s impact on the natural world talked of the need for us to develop an affection for nature and its processes, and of the importance of education. Professor Gupta, who led the review, wrote:

As that affection [for the natural world] can flourish only if we each develop an appreciation of Nature’s workings, the monograph ends with a plea that our education systems should introduce Nature studies from the earliest stages of our lives, and revisit them in the years we spend in secondary and tertiary education. The conclusion we should draw from this is unmistakable: if we care about our common future and the common future of our descendants, we should all in part be naturalists.

Preface, The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review

Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of children and young people learning much more than at present about climate change, and about the environment and nature more generally, as part of a fully rounded, life-based curriculum. Such a curriculum will help them adopt the skills, values and practices that ensure they are able to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

We also blog regularly about the mental health benefits of getting out and about and enjoying nature and the environment. In our blog Getting involved with nature is a great way to deal with eco-anxiety, we talked about encouraging and empowering people — individuals, schools, communities — to take practical action to make a difference and bring about change.

It is a crucial step to making things better, an acknowledgement that solutions cannot just be left to distant and abstract actors on the world stage like sovereign governments and the United Nations. It is also a way to tackle mental health conditions like eco-anxiety that thrive on feelings of helplessness and disempowerment.

Getting involved with nature is a great way to deal with eco-anxiety

More About Sustainable Living

Image at the head of this article by Peggychoucair from Pixabay.

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