Joe Brindle and Eleanor Andrade May both volunteer for Teach The Future, a youth-led campaign pushing for broad climate education in the UK
The UK is currently facing an unprecedented challenge: we desperately need to reach net-zero emissions to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, but we cannot do this without a workforce equipped with the right skills and knowledge.
A recent report by the Aldersgate Group found the UK faces a deficit in green skills needed for jobs in renewable energy, electric transport manufacture and low carbon building construction, and that this shortfall is severely limiting potential emissions reduction.
Education could play a crucial role in breaking this deadlock, but is currently failing to do so. Students of all ages aren’t being adequately prepared to play their part in a just transition; a 2019 study by the National Union of Students found that just four percent of respondents felt they knew much about climate change.
This lack of climate education and the gap in the skills required are harming the UK’s ability to adapt and defend against the climate crisis. But the good news is we know targeted investment in education can overcome enormous challenges.
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed the US National Defense Education Act, which aimed to kickstart engineering, maths, and science education and give America the edge in the space and arms races. It paid off: in July 1969, the average age in Apollo mission control was just 28.
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We should learn from this and apply those lessons to our current most pressing challenge. A Climate Emergency Education Act, like the one proposed by Teach the Future, would make sure that students are taught about the climate and ecological crises: how they are caused, what we can do to mitigate them, and what our future lives and jobs are going to look like due to them.
Teaching on climate change and sustainable principles shouldn’t just be restricted to geography and chemistry – as is currently the case – instead, it should extend to all subject areas at every level of education, reflecting how the climate crisis affects all aspects of society. In history, we should learn how our relationship with fossil fuels first began; in design and technology, we should learn how to use sustainable materials; in English, we should explore the writings of people most affected by the climate crisis.
The list goes on. By weaving these issues like a golden thread through the curriculum, we can ensure that every student understands the implications of climate change and the challenges that come with adaptation.
Climate education shouldn’t just be about how or what we learn, but where we learn. The UK is currently home to a wide variety of drafty, poorly insulated, and inefficiently powered school buildings. Bringing the school estate to net-zero through large-scale retrofitting should benefit students’ lives regardless of class or postcode inspiring them to live sustainably, while also providing mental and physical health benefits from the increase in green space on campuses.
In addition, it will create a variety of new green jobs throughout the UK and improve countless students’ learning conditions, helping them reach their full potential and make a sustainable lifestyle accessible to everyone.
A Climate Emergency Education Act should give a broad and bold climate education to every student, in every subject, at every level – empowering the next generation of workers and consumers to contribute to and thrive in a sustainable, resilient and net-zero society.
Main image credit: Gary Knight/Flickr