Developing climate leaders of the future

Climate and sustainability need to be built in to our school curriculum, building on the separate efforts of individual teachers and students to raise awareness of the need to change. [29 July 2008 | Peter Boyer]

Speech to seminar for teachers on making schools more environmentally sustainable, organised by Corey Peterson, Mackillop College, Mornington, Tasmania, 29 July 2008.

Standing here on this important occasion, with schools now actively exploring what’s possible in the way of sustainable living when they work together and engage their students, I have some very mixed feelings.

In the first instance, I’m concerned that this is happening now, and not when I was a boy, when the effort to turn things around would have been so much less. Instead, my generation along with the Xs and the Ys became the quintessential consumers, eating into the earth’s fossil reserves and teaching our young how not to live sustainably.

But I’m also heartened by the prospect of our young people being recruited to the cause, bringing all the enthusiasm and excitement and optimism of youth to a problem that cries out for their involvement.

The thing is, for all the doom and gloom (and a great deal of pessimism is well-founded when you look at the science and our efforts to date) we still have a chance of pulling ourselves out of this mess.

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 have carried 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.

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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