Climate change demands an educational re-think

If we’re to make headway in reducing carbon emissions, we need to help our young people develop the resources they need for this long-term task. In the process we will all find many rewards. [29 July 2008 | Peter Boyer]

“Think”, says the Federal Government in its new advertising campaign on emissions trading. A timely reminder, if we needed it, that education is a big player in our quest for a sustainable future for tomorrow’s generations – today’s children.

MacKillop College students at work to revegetate the Bellerive foreshore using hardy, low-maintenance native plants.

MacKillop College students at work to revegetate the Bellerive foreshore using hardy, low-maintenance native plants.

Most of the cost of the good times enjoyed by my generation, which produced today’s high fossil-fuel emission levels, will be carried by our young people. The least we can do is give them the best possible preparation for meeting it.

This is an educational challenge with a difference. We’re used to breaking down knowledge into boxes – essentially discrete subjects of study. But climate change is about the entire planet – all its physical and biological systems along with the social, economic and political lives of its human inhabitants.

We need somehow to draw these strands together into an education that helps our children see the world as a whole, in all its wonder, while equipping them with some of the practical skills they will need to meet the challenges of a whole new existence.

Our future will be more secure if we can equip our young people with such knowledge and skills. Here’s a challenge for the Education Department: develop climate and sustainability as a discrete element of the Tasmanian primary and secondary school curriculum – and make it a compulsory subject.

In the meantime, individual teachers carry the flame of environmental responsibility. I and my fellow Climate Project presenters have met numerous school groups at the invitation of such teachers. It’s been our pleasure and privilege to deal with them and their invariably well-informed audiences.

One such teacher has gone a few steps further. Corey Peterson and his school, MacKillop College on Hobart’s Eastern Shore, are developing a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of living sustainably.

MacKillop’s ambitious program includes reducing waste, lowering water and energy use, capturing and using stormwater, removing weeds and landscaping with native plants, establishing a school food garden, and generating 2000 watts of renewable energy.

Best of all, in helping to develop the program, MacKillop students under Corey Peterson’s leadership have been learning how we can work together to live sustainably.

On the basis that the school’s experience is worth duplicating in other Tasmanian schools, Sustainable Living Tasmania and the Clarence City Council have joined MacKillop in a “Clarence Sustainable Schools Initiative” to help schools use the National Solar Schools Program to implement sustainability projects.

The initiative begins this afternoon with an information session for principals and other staff of Eastern Shore schools, hosted at MacKillop by the Clarence Mayor, Jock Campbell. It will help other schools use federal funding to kick-start sustainable practices and help young people appreciate the vital importance of living within our planet’s means.

With good guidance, young people are becoming climate leaders. May the MacKillop challenge be taken up across Tasmania, to benefit and inspire us all.

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