Updated: September 29, 2019 9:37:17 am
It has become common to see news with screaming headlines like ‘Rising sea-levels could sink Mumbai, Surat, Kolkata and the Andamans, latest UN report warns’ or ‘Oceans and ice are bearing the brunt of climate change’. While the naysayers and sceptics continue with denials, and their beliefs about climate change conspiracy theories and that the “world is just doing fine”, there is little doubt about the impact climate change is wreaking across the planet, countries, cities and individuals, especially adolescents. The recently released report by the United Nations-led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change talks about the impact of carbon pollution on oceans and ice sheets and the consequential impact on humanity flourishing as a species.
In such a depressing environment, and one which is further compounded when we see countries and politicians wanting to hide behind the veil of ‘economic growth’ to further the climate apocalypse, it is heartening to see the rousing speech by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Action Summit recently. Calling out to world leaders, she thundered, “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
Greta has been talking about climate change and environment for some time, beginning with bunking school every Friday to protest outside the Swedish parliament. Despite the controversies around her, I think the speech might just be the tipping point to begin serious conversations, and hopefully action, around saving the planet. Importantly, like Greta, schoolchildren across the globe are talking about the approaching doom because they are worried, afraid and think that they can bring in a positive change and start a youth-driven global movement around climate change.
The recent Global Climate Strike on September 23 and September 27 saw children across the world rallying, including robust participation in several Indian cities, to bring the conversation of climate change to the fore. They are beginning to understand that time is running out and they are the ones who will suffer and hence the rise in interest and intent to do something.
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One of the key issues that has not been talked about in the whole climate change discussion is the impact on the mental and emotional well-being of teenagers. I have quite a few kids coming up to me and asking, “What’s the point of exams if the world is going to end and we are going to die?”.
This is not dramatic but the impact of climate change on individuals. Eco-anxiety is real and ticking. Think about the children in Mumbai who are growing up with the constant buzz that their city is going to sink in 2100 (we have time?), 2050 (oh s***!), 2030 (what’s the point?). As the din of the climate change discussion increases, we will see a generation growing up with anxiety and fear that humanity will go extinct due to its own follies.
And I am not even talking about the physical and mental toll on people and teenagers who actually go through the hurricanes, floods or wildfires, few of the outcomes of the rapidly changing climate. Experiencing personal injury and/or being witness to the injury or death of their loved one can have significant psychological harm. If we want the emotional and mental well-being of the current and the coming generation, it is important to constantly have conversations about the subject.
As an educator, I think that schools should be places where these conversations are not only given space but fires of ‘undoing the damage’ exchanges actively stoked. Given the limited time left to undo the damage, I often wonder why this important topic is not part of the curriculum. But that is another discussion.
So the big question is: What can educators and schools do? Along with the schools, we have to continue creating awareness about the cataclysmic, mass-extinction event. Schools need to start taking climate-friendly actions and walk the talk. These would include reducing and recycling waste, setting up eco groups, evaluating the school’s carbon footprint and getting the parents involved and building a larger community.
I am reminded of one of the dialogues in the Keanu Reeves-starrer The Day the Earth Stood Still. As the alien Klaatu hellbent on destroying Earth, he tells Professor Barnhardt, “The problem is you. You lack the will to change; I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.”
Our job as educators should be to ensure that we build empowered narratives for our children, who can then go out and ask the leaders and policy makers, “How dare you?” We need to encourage more Gretas in their quest to redefine the concept of growth with sustainable growth, and in the process save the planet.
In the end, I still like my fairy tales ending with ‘And they all lived happily ever after…’, and hope that it is the children who will make this happen.
(Iyer is a teacher trainer and teacher at The Shri Ram School, Maulsari Avenue, Gurgaon)
The article appeared in print under the title ‘Greta Thunberg in my classroom’
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