The Wombles are mobilised to support the government’s green campaign ahead of COP26

The Wombles are back! The Wombles — environmental champions living on (well, under) Wimbledon Common — were a staple of 1970s popular culture, not just as a successful stop-motion animation series but also as a pop group, with several top-10 singles to their name. They introduced a generation of children (of which this writer was one) to ideas about litter, recycling and caring about the environment at a time when the eco-movement was very much on the fringes of public debate and awareness of what we would now call green issues was in its infancy. Now the Wombles have been mobilised ahead of the COP26 summit on the environment to promote the UK government’s Together for Our Planet campaign and to encourage all of us to go #OneStepGreener for the planet. It is a message that resonates with key elements of Life-Based Learning.

The Wombles was first shown on the BBC in 1973. The series was based on books written by Elizabeth Beresford about a secretive group of creatures who live beneath Wimbledon Common, collecting and recycling the litter “the everyday folk leave behind” (to quote The Wombling Song). According to the BBC’s own Wombles page, the series secured a large crossover audience as the programme was broadcast at the end of children’s programming and just before the main news.

We’re so incredibly utterly devious
Making the most of everything
Even bottles and tins
Pick up the pieces and make them into something new
Is what we do

from The Wombling Song, written by Mike Batt

I would probably prefer ‘ingenious’ to ‘devious’ but the basic idea contained in these lines — written in the ’70s — is more urgent than ever.

The Wombles will feature in a series of short animated films on social media explaining how we can all go #OneStepGreener by:

  • travelling smarter – walking, cycling or taking public transport
  • reusing and upcycling – to avoid waste going into landfill
  • growing and eating food in season
  • planting trees in our gardens
  • creating wildlife friendly gardens
  • reducing food waste – by creating meals from leftovers
  • reducing energy usage at home – by turning off the lights and plugs when not in use

The move to co-opt the Wombles to support the government’s campaign has not met with universal approval. Prof Julia Steinberger, who is a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said:

Reviving the beloved Wombles to deflect responsibility away from themselves and towards blaming individual citizens marks the UK government as deceptive and untrustworthy on this most important topic.

Prof Julia Steinberger, Professor of Social Ecology and Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds

Dr Sophie Dauvois, editor of an arts and science magazine for three- to seven-year-olds, approaches the question from the point of view of how best to engage young children with challenging and potentially frightening issues.

She says there is a difficult line to tread to inform young children without making them feel guilty or paralysed with fear. “We are not pointing the finger at anyone really. We try to give them [children] tools to do something and be positive.” Many children’s factual TV programmes cover environmental topics such as recycling and energy use. But Dauvois says exploring them with fictional characters is a useful way of playing out different scenarios safely. “Storytelling is a strong way of communicating science or other ideas, as well as through learning and play. They can question, they can laugh, they can make jokes about it.”

quoted from a Guardian article, Are the Wombles really the best children’s characters to tackle the climate crisis?

As we highlighted last week, the children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has just published the results of the ‘Big Ask’, the biggest ever survey of children anywhere in the world, with over half a million responses. According to the survey, 39% of children (aged 9–17) said that the environment was one of their main worries about the future, making it the second most common answer. In her foreword, Dame de Souza says:

[Children] think hard about regional inequality, about injustice, about prejudice, about British values, about the environment — they want to engage with these things and address them.

Dame Rachel de Souza, foreword to The Big Ask – The Big Answer

Dame de Souza’s words — and the #OneStepGreener message — resonate with the fundamental rationale behind Life-Based Learning. As we said in a recent blog, central to LBL is the idea that children need to be learning about the challenges that we face, now and in the decades to come.

But the aim is not to frighten or to spread a fatalist mindset. On the contrary, LBL is about agency and empowerment — giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, able as individuals and collectively to tackle the many challenges that blight our world.

from Agency and empowerment will help counter fatalism and climate anxiety

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