It didn’t trouble the headline-writers but the National Trust’s just-published annual audit of how the year’s weather has affected nature ought to be at the forefront of our minds as we assess the year that is ending, formulate new year’s resolutions and generally look ahead.
This year’s weather in the UK has included drought, record-breaking summer temperatures, back-to-back storms, unseasonal heat, a severe cold snap and floods. The National Trust’s prediction is chilling: “Extreme weather conditions seen this year are set to become the new normal. This will have a devastating impact on wildlife unless more is done to tackle the climate and nature crises.”
The National Trust was, it goes without saying, far from the only organisation to have issued warnings this year about the stark challenges we – the entirety of humanity, that is, meaning every one of us on the planet and the billions yet to be born – face:
“As far as biodiversity is concerned, we are at war with nature. We need to make peace with nature. Because nature is what sustains everything on Earth … the science is unequivocal.” So said the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal earlier this month.
Some people describe the tone adopted by the likes of UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres – he spoke this year of a “highway to climate hell” and a “cooperate or perish” choice for humanity – as unnecessarily alarmist, though there is widespread agreement about the need to move to a more sustainable way of living.
The evidence about the beneficial effects of nature on our physical and mental wellbeing continues to stack up at a seemingly ever-increasing rate. In October we blogged about the findings of a six-year programme designed to bring together the youth and environmental sectors by involving young people in nature projects. It suggested that participation boosted mental health, self-confidence and employability, and that participants were consistently found to be more confident, better skilled, happier and more able to find work as a result of their participation.
And yet – as we noted in November – most of the English countryside is off limits to the public – 92% of the countryside and 97% of rivers – including large parts of our national parks in England and Wales. The case for properly opening up the countryside to help boost physical and mental wellbeing is compelling.
Analysis carried out by the charity Diabetes UK showed that rates of type 2 diabetes in the under-40s are now increasing faster than in the over-40s, with cases up by 23% in the last five years. Meanwhile, figures released in April by the UK Office for National Statistics were a grim reminder of the massive gap in healthy life expectancy and in overall life expectancy between the wealthiest and the poorest areas of England. Someone born in a deprived part of the country may have almost twenty fewer years of healthy life than someone born in the wealthiest part.
We blogged in September about projected health outcomes for China in the coming decades. Death rates from non-communicable diseases associated with an affluent lifestyle – and therefore previously seen in high levels primarily in the West – are likely to reach staggering levels there by 2050.
Health outcomes in other rapidly developing countries around the world are likely to follow the same trends as China as affluence levels rise. Lung cancer, linked to high rates of smoking, is high up the list of non-communicable diseases killing millions, as are diabetes and heart disease, often caused by a combination of a rich diet, low exercise levels and high blood pressure.
There have been outstanding sporting achievements this year – perhaps most notably the success of the England women’s football team in winning the Euro 2022 tournament. We have published several blogs about the importance of legacy and of ensuring that all the fine words we hear around big national moments don’t turn into empty promises, forgotten about or quietly shelved when difficult choices have to be made.
And on the back of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there are lots of difficult choices to be made. Alas, political realities mean that much far-sighted and creative thinking is probably going to be stymied by short-termism and petty partisanship, with ideas and proposals put forward by one side routinely rubbished by the other, especially if they don’t come cheap or with quick and visible results.
Children and young people are often the ones worst affected, of course. Cuts and limits on funding are affecting everything from children’s mental health services to opportunities for adventurous play. And yet the need is acute. We blogged earlier this month that the mental health charity Mind says the wait to be treated can be as much as four years, and back in February about a warning from the Prince’s Trust regarding the state of young people’s mental wellbeing, including low levels of confidence about the future and high levels of anxiety and feelings of burnout.
There is an appetite for change.
We wrote in October about polling commissioned jointly by the National Trust, the RSPB and WWF, which found that 81% of UK adults believe nature is under threat and that more needs to be done urgently to protect and restore it.
Back in June, when an astonishing 17 million people took an active role in Platinum Jubilee celebrations, we were reminded of a lockdown opinion poll which found that 73% of people would like society to be more connected in the future; they looked forward to “a new, country-wide moment that celebrates communities and what we have in common.”
We also blogged this year about two significant critiques of the current system of education in England, one from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the other from the Times Education Commission. The latter, which consulted more than 600 experts, concluded that Britain’s education system “is failing on every measure”.
Life-Based Learning is also about fundamentally rethinking the purposes of education. It is a bold call to make life itself and the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – the focus of a fully-rounded approach to children’s learning and development.
Thank you for dropping by to read this and other blogs this year and for your interest in Life-Based Learning more generally.
We look forward to renewing our campaign in the new year for an approach to education in Britain and across the world that prioritises physical and mental health and wellbeing, the development of skills that enhance dignity and fulfilment in the workplace, the safeguarding of the planet and its resources, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Image at the head of this article by Christian Bodhi from Pixabay.