28 February 2019
The weather we’ve been having recently makes it easy to feel, as we start the second half of term, that spring is here. We can look forward to the lengthening days and maybe even another great summer like last year. Well, you never know, it could happen…
Whatever the weather brings in the months ahead, I’m willing to bet that one thing will happen. And that is, if the weather is unseasonably cold, someone (someone like President Trump) will say in a sceptical tone: ‘and they talk about global warming…’. Or, if we do have another summer like last year, someone else will say: ‘there you are – global warming in action…’.
A lot of the time those are just ways of starting a conversation of course, and can’t be taken too seriously. We all know that ‘weather is not climate’, and that for climate change we need to look at longer term patterns rather than try and learn anything from a single year.
And that’s why I’m always delighted when I see initiatives being taken around school in areas like climate change and global warming, and also around wider green issues such as the use of plastics, with the tremendously harmful effect that they’re having on the environment.
One great example of those initiatives was our Green Week, where those who participated were able to see the effects of the use of plastic and other packaging materials for themselves when they picked up a mammoth 12kg of rubbish on a path not far from the school. That was a great effort and I have encouraged all our students to get involved with our next litter pick. I myself did several litter picks during half term: all the same issues apply in our part of the Suffolk coast. I find it particularly hard to understand why people feel the urge to litter really attractive natural areas.
Why do I bother going on these litter picks? Caring about the environment has just always been with me. My awareness about environmental issues was first raised at a very young age when campaigns against litter and pollution were in full swing. I suppose some see it almost as an act of rebellion – and maybe even that’s a step forward from the 1950s and 60s, when I really don’t think there was the same awareness that there was anything wrong with dropping litter – it was almost the normal thing to do for many people.
The one thing I think we can say now is that the awareness really is there in society. That was clear just before half term on Friday 15th February with the protests by school pupils across the country against the lack of action by politicians in relation to climate change. According to the organisers, more than 10,000 young people in at least 60 towns and cities as far apart as Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands took part, hugely surpassing their expectations. People may also remember the campaigning for action on climate change by a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Sweden, Greta Thunberg. Greta is also still active, and one newspaper has calculated that there are now protests by some 270,000 school pupils each week across the world, a lot of which can be traced back to the inspiration of Greta’s original campaign.
These are all great signs of the pressure that can be put on leaders and politicians by young people – and in fact the impact of the voices of the young is particularly strong in relation to issues that will really hit home during their lifetimes rather than during the lifetime of those who are currently in power.
What I hope is that some of the young people who are involved in these campaigns and protests also go on to make a contribution to the research that is needed into where the exact effects are and how they can be tackled – including everything from gathering the evidence of climate change happening through to developing alternative technologies to help us all deal with specific problems and effects. Many of the girls from my school will be in a great position to make their own contribution to that process in the years ahead.
It’s not just about research and science, though. Raising awareness of these problems is absolutely vital and it is the communicators – the writers, journalists and broadcasters, and of course the users of social media – who will be needed to ensure that the awareness continues to spread. And it is also the artists and musicians who will come up with creative new ways of looking at the issues and getting the messages across.
So there is a role for everyone in this, whatever it is students will go on to study or whatever career path they then choose.
The great thing is that there is now real evidence of success when it comes to changes being made. Going back to the plastics and other packaging that we find on our litter picks, the outcry after the BBC’s recent Blue Planet series has inspired a whole range of action from companies and other organisations to take practical steps (including the changes we have made here in the school like removing plastic cups, spoons and other single-use plastics. On a European level, the EU is considering a ban on single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds and straws, and there has been consultation from the UK government to do the same here.
Equally, though, we must not be fooled into thinking that there are technology-based solutions to all of the problems that we face. A lot of the time the only solution will be a change of mindset and a recognition that we cannot continue to behave in the ways that, as a society, many of us have been doing.
But I think we can, and should, be hopeful. With the commitment that we’re seeing, from so many young – and older – people across the world, we can all make a difference. So the key message is that it is worth getting to know about these issues and making your views known, perhaps now more than ever.
Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress, St Mary’s Calne