Matthew Burns

A New Sustainability Agenda for Schools?

[Blog post created by Andrew Fleck – Sedbergh School Principal]

During the last year, children all around the World have expressed their desire for political and commercial action to halt the progress of Global Warming; the measured protests by Extinction Rebellion have engaged a wider range of activists than ever before. Now, we read about the rapid retreat of Himalayan glaciers and meltwater on the Greenland icecap; navigation of the Arctic ocean is a commercial reality. As I write, a heatwave has engulfed Europe demonstrating, again, that climate shift is with us.

I taught pupils about the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming in the 1980’s and 90’s yet the subject remained merely academic as other priorities crowded out its importance. Not anymore. David Attenborough has become a force for social change alongside Greta Thunberg, we have reached a tipping point where sustainable living has become an urgent, mainstream topic. I hope it stays there and I hope it isn’t too late?

Schools have always played an essential role in promoting responsible living, now this is extended by the change in priority afforded to environmental responsibility. No longer is it solely about educating our pupils about future risk and their responsibilities, we are called to immediate action ourselves.

Sedbergh School will publish its targets for reduction in carbon emissions by January 2020. This will be achieved through investment in insulation, re-glazing and improved heating systems and the engagement of the whole Sedbergh community. The timescale for achievement of these reductions will by 2025, the 500th anniversary of the School’s foundation.

But perhaps we have an even more important educational role? As part of the 20% of our planetary population who consume 80% of its resources, we must find ways to reduce our consumption without diminishing standards of living. At its heart, this change is about redefining success as being the individual’s contribution to society rather than the acquisition of wealth; and of individual creativity as an alternative to consumerism.

The technical and financial challenges to effect reduced carbon outputs are significant but the social challenges of creating the foundations for a sustainable society are far greater, more interesting and ultimately rewarding.

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