BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 20 Nov'14

From Our ‘Children’s Future and the Storms Ahead’, by Marcus Culverwell

There is no single or homogenous audience to warn about crossing ecological boundaries or failing to deal with the large-scale problems that human beings have created. All of us, whether as individuals making consumption choices, governments setting legislation or corporations making production choices, have cumulative common impacts and therefore we are all involved. However, trying to convey important information to every human being who is in a position to do something that will bring about change is a tall order.

A logical approach is to include the most significant and pressing issues within the taught curriculum and within the cultures of our schools. Then, within two decades, all of the people taking significant places of leadership, governance and management in our societies will be well informed to make the right choices. It is our children, those in our colleges today, who will mould economic and social systems for the rest of the century.

A deep understanding of why climate change, desertification, fresh water depletion, soil degradation and other ecosystem service damage really matter to us all is essential if these problems are to be recognised for what they are, and if they are to be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

I believe education in these areas needs to be across the full age range, and for regular consolidation it needs to be integrated into all subject areas in order to give it the profile it deserves. In this way the rising generations will then all know what needs to be achieved to tackle the considerable challenges ahead. As they take their places in our societies and stride forward into the 21st century, these future leaders and innovators will not then be travelling blindfolded.

Adults today, and particularly educators, have to be the ones to tell the children currently in our schools of the problems that we have created, or they will simply follow in the foolish footsteps of their forebears — that is you and me. I may offend you with this statement, but the truth is we have run up an ecological debt which our children will have to pay.

A statement by Dr James Martin which first made me really think — in fact it made me sit up in indignation — was this: ‘The public at large is spectacularly ignorant about many serious scientific issues.’

But when I investigated further I realised that he was right, and I was indeed ignorant. The ecological problems which are growing at a dangerous rate are little understood.

I can say this with confidence, because when I speak to groups of students and teachers, there is a void in their understanding of both the issues themselves and the consequences of leaving them unaddressed. There is a deep lack of understanding regarding the relationship between the environment on which we depend, its provision of our every need and our extravagant consumer culture.

Can we ignore what is said to be an inevitable slide into serious economic, social and environmental problems, unless we act decisively to stop it? As one observer put it, ‘it would be the most significant shift in society that mankind will ever have seen.’ If so, can we allow this possibility without doing everything we can to avoid it? And how can we achieve this goal without teaching our children, the future pioneers of progress, everything we can about solving the problems?

H. G. Wells once said, ‘Civilisation is in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have.’

As I have started to express, the truth is, unless thousands of the world’s top scientists are dreadfully mistaken, we are running at ever-accelerating speeds into very serious problems, and unless we take the urgent and significant action that is needed to prevent it from happening, our children and future generations will pay a huge price. The issues about which these experts are warning us are frighteningly absent from general public consciousness and, in the main, they are certainly absent from our school curriculums. Yet it is our children who need to know — perhaps more than anyone.

This is not scaremongering. It is not the rhetoric of alarmist environmentalists. It is simply the opinion of many of the top academic minds of our day, and it is based upon clear scientific and mathematical data.

Despite having had a scientific background myself, and despite being the head teacher at a school with an excellent reputation, when I started looking more seriously into what I was slowly becoming aware of, I found it hard to believe how little I, or any of my contemporaries, really knew about the significance of climate change, water and food scarcity, ecosystem degradation and resource depletion.

Many of these contemporaries are head teachers who have significant positions in the world of education, but we all lacked an appreciation of the potential problems we, and pupils in our schools, were likely to be facing in the not too distant future.

It struck me that if those who shape our current education system are missing one of the most important ingredients from the educational mix, then we are simply not preparing children for the future that they are almost certainly going to inherit. Like training coal miners when the pits have already closed, or VCR technicians when the technology was long since obsolete, we are not preparing our students for the realities they will face.

In our schools we not only seem to be falling behind the needs of industry and business in a rapidly evolving world, but we are also missing this crucial ingredient, this vital ingredient for a healthy and stable future, and one that is gaining much traction in both higher education and in business.

This is an important factor. What universities and businesses are starting to see as important matters take a long time to filter down into schools. Therefore, the process of preparing our children properly to take up effective positions in such organisations is inadequate.

Dealing with sustainable development and all that it entails is not only of paramount importance for the future stability and prosperity of the planet, but also presents some of the most exciting opportunities for young people for employment in areas that will have profound impacts and offer real value. Jobs with global significance.

Yet, in the main, we are teaching as we have always done — business as usual (BAU) — seemingly oblivious to the many voices of top business experts, economists, investment analysts and systems analysts, as well as the raft of scientists and sociologists who are calling for us to accept the fact that it has to be business as ‘unusual’ now.

We have to change the way we teach and subsequently the way we live and run our economic systems quite radically and decisively. We must swiftly move to systems whereby we no longer damage and degrade our environment, because the ramifications of all these interrelated systems all starting to fail are enormous.

Educating our young people in order to prepare them to be instrumental in this cultural shift, and freeing them to use their creativity to bring about changes which we, their teachers and parents, may not even be able to imagine, must surely be of paramount importance.

Despite warnings from scientists and engineers, their warnings are not heeded and disasters result. From the eutrophication of the Black Sea to the flooding of New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina to the virtual depletion of fish stocks from our oceans, we only act after catastrophe has occurred and often when it is too late.

However, when it comes to protecting the Earth, our very life source, and protecting our global economy, our social stability and interconnected ecosystems from imminent disaster, it is a catastrophe we cannot allow. Not only will the repercussions in terms of human misery and tragedy be enormous, but if some of the world’s most eminent scientists are right, we will condemn future generations, starting with those currently in our schools, to a declining economy, a destabilised global community, declining security and a destabilised climate which will wreak ever-increasing havoc on mankind. These are not small issues.

Governments talk but fail to act with the strength or urgency needed. There appears to be much more emphasis on small short-term financial gains than in investment to protect our children’s future. It is sad, but probably true, that the current generation of students and pupils in our schools are the only ones who can effectively bring about the system-wide changes we need to see. This will only happen if they understand what the real needs are — and that will only be achieved through an education system which effectively conveys the needs to them. If this is to be effectively conveyed, then it needs to hold a prominent place in our school curriculums, our school cultures, and needs to be taught by teachers who themselves understand what is at stake.

Currently human beings are behaving with great complacency in the light of all the evidence, and we are failing to address these very serious problems. As I say, much of this is down to widespread ignorance, and I can say this with confidence because just two years ago I was just as oblivious to these colossal problems as are the majority of the population today. The other reason for the lack of action is that the enormity of addressing the problems is so great that it is easy to wonder where to begin. People also tend to believe that it is someone else’s responsibility, but we all need to take responsibility and we all need to get involved.

This is why my call is to those in a position to influence education from whatever direction. It is a rallying call to everyone who has the opportunity to guide curriculums and change school cultures. And it is a challenge to everyone who will ultimately inform the people who hold the keys to unlocking new possibilities for a sustainable future — the children and young adults in our schools today.

If H. G. Wells was right, we need to make sure education wins the race, not catastrophe!