DeSmog

A Plea to the Next Government From Young People: We Need Spaces to Learn the Difficult Truth About Climate, Together

To deal with the challenges of the new normal, the next UK government must transform education now.
Opinion
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Young student writing in lined notebook.
Credit: Jairus Monilla (Public Domain)

Labour, which is likely to win the next general election, has just published its disappointing manifesto. While we should not look to the next government for an answer to climate breakdown, it is especially unfortunate that Labour is backing out of preexisting promises to provide adequate climate education. If the leaders of today cannot provide the far-sighted direction we need, let’s at least make sure those of us who are to inherit this tormented world have the tools to navigate it.

As a woman in her twenties who has worked to promote mainstream climate action with the Climate Majority Project for the past two years, here are my thoughts on the kind of education we need in the coming decades:

The adults of today, who grew up learning that somehow “everything is OK”, often are those who display the greatest denial or despair while coming to terms with signs that this civilization must radically change, and that there are no shortcuts. Citizens share a feeling that we should be protected, which is welcome. However, many young people know that even if society corrects its course of travel, we are in danger. We feel that something deep in the way we live is off, and are looking for answers — to learn about the climate crisis, and to understand why civilisation seems unable to address it.

I would much rather be in the shoes of someone who grows up preparing for the crisis we really live in, than spend decades labouring over business as usual…before realising that I am a crew member on a speeding ship, lost at sea with a broken compass.

One obvious way that young people can get into those shoes is a truthful, rigorous education on climate change, biodiversity, and environmental systems. People of my generation and younger cannot deal with what is coming in our lifetimes if we do not know what is coming. This next British government should pioneer education appropriate for our times. Many young people are ready to do what we can to help conserve as much of nature and society as possible. We just need the tools and guidance to do something about it.

However, it is not enough to inform the young public of actions and life choices appropriate to climate reality. We also need spaces where we have time and mutual support to help that truth intimately sink in. It is such a relief when we see others waking up to these harsh realities alongside us. Without feeling like we are part of something greater, the best information in the world will cause most to shut down.

A lot of people have already been thinking about the kind of curricular adjustments that would make such education possible. Despite omitting it from its manifesto, Labour had in fact included the climate education bill (promoted by our collaborator Teach the Future) in its platform since 2022. The bill proposes education guided by principles such as recognising the interconnectedness of all beings, grappling emotionally with the state of the world — without an adequate emotional container, the truth hardly ever turns into action — and cultivating creative and critical thinking for a transformative environment.

This is the kind of policy needed to set the tone for an education that prepares students for the future, instead of remaining fossilised in a post-industrial past.

Even as a dual citizen of Italy and the United States, I generally count far more on the UK’s cultural and political leadership than that of my own countries. If substantial measures cannot be taken in one of the world’s most innovative and environmentally savvy nations, I might as well go live under a rock and wait for collapse to come.

Through the Climate Courage Campaign, the Climate Majority Project is building a coalition of climate scientists, mental health professionals, educators, and students to amplify the great work people are already doing to deliver hard climate realities in classrooms across the world in the best possible way.

For many people, the truth might hit hard. However, delivering it skillfully and with appropriate emotional support, is the best possible prevention for the health impacts of climate change — not to mention orienting my generation to jobs appropriate for our times. I am very glad to be a part of this effort, and consider myself especially lucky to do a job I find meaningful today.

I hope living and working in cubicles and eating out of plastic isn’t the pinnacle of human development. It might be for the better if the modern way of life turns out to be a blip in history. What happened to starry night skies around a fire; to song; to one big pot in the middle for many mouths? To huddling for warmth, to actually needing each other to survive? I know, there is something terrifying for us modern people about depending on and sharing with others. Yet the individualistic alternative we have created is lifeless.

I don’t know where we’re going, but if you want young people to feel protected, consider that a future beyond business as usual could be really beautiful.

We need spaces and communities where we can talk about what intensifying uncertainty and climate breakdown mean to us, and how they will hit home. I want frank conversations about whether or not my town is prone to flooding, or what job I can do to help my community and nation navigate a time of crisis.

If Labour does win, I hope Keir Starmer takes his party’s existing commitments to climate education seriously. We can’t afford to wait until 2029. If education sticks to its current models, today’s young people will grow up without the tools to steer this ship — and we will sink. Please, let’s have some foresight: Do we want our children to be Generation Dodo?

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