Climate change – a game changer for students

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Photo by Agustín Lautaro on Unsplash

The Earth’s changing climate is going to dominate the lives of every young person on the planet today. The race is on to slow current global warming trends and avoid potentially catastrophic outcomes, and today’s 5 to 18 year olds are going to be the ones solving this problem for us. It’s big news, big science, is becoming big business, and may provide big opportunities for people who want to help our planet and communities avoid the worst effects of a changing planet.

So how did we get here, what’s happening to our climate and what’s being done about it? Today we have some examples of the types of articles that are out there at the moment, and what I’d like to do is (very briefly and broadly) walk through these three questions. At the end, I’ll pose some thoughts to ponder for teachers, parents, school leaders and anyone else interested in education and learning for the future.

Less than 10 years after World War 2 ended, the fossil fuel industry was studying the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere. The industry knew that global warming was a threat, and started an anti-science and climate denial campaign that outspent big tobacco’s attempts to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer. The campaign continues to this day.

But the internal research continued, and despite the public denials came a rising awareness that Earth’s climate would be affected. In fact, the fossil fuel industry giant Exxon’s own research scientists predicted the current Carbon Dioxide levels of 415 parts per million 37 years ago.

The fossil fuel industry knew that this was coming, and has defended its interests well.

So what’s happening to our climate? Have a look at the temperatures in central England from 1772 to 2018. A clear pattern of warming is visible here, and if you click through from the previous link you’ll find examples of ‘warming stripes‘ from all over the world. One highlight includes annual global temperatures from 1850 to 2017 – the colour scale represents a change in temperature covering 1.35 Degrees Celsius.

There are other examples within the Climate Lab Book – Open Climate Science site, but you get the idea.

A lot of the surplus heat that is now being generated accumulates in the world’s oceans, and the research indicates rapid ocean warming over the past decades. This is a problem, as warming seas means melting glaciers and sea ice, causing further changes in water and air temperatures, making the climate more unpredictable.

So, a warming of 3 to 4 degrees above pre industrial levels and wild weather is where things are currently heading.

So what to do? The first is to reduce carbon emissions, and fast. It’s still possible to limit warming, and a future without fossil fuels is coming, although it won’t be easy and may take time. Renewable energy sources look ready to disrupt the fossil fuel industry as they become cheaper, with widespread disruption predicted by 2030.

Other solutions are in the works. Geo-engineering is being explored for mitigating the effects of climate change at the Great Barrier Reef, there are Trillion Trees initiatives (see here and here), and there seems to be agreement that planting a lot of trees is generally a good idea.

But, as with anything involving the climate, it may not be quite that simple. Planting billions of trees may present its own set of problems, as although trees do store carbon they also emit certain types of warming chemicals and store heat.

We’re talking to each other as well, and different economies are getting together to try and figure out how to make the transition, with one example being the COP24 climate talks in Poland. Governments and private interests appear to (largely) understand that we’re in this together, businesses are getting more involved, and the voice of young people is growing louder – as it should.

The solution to climate change may be economic, and Globalisation 4.0 might help us tackle climate change. How? Well the theory goes that rapidly-emerging technologies might “… be able to harness new means of monitoring, verifying and reporting the progress (or lack thereof) of global, regional and industry actions on climate, potentially through radical new forms of distributed information transparency and real-time disclosures.”

If the decision is made to treat climate change as an actual crisis and respond as we might if we were in a war, it could inject $7 Trillion into the economy. In this example, investing 1.8 Trillion U.S. Dollars in key areas over 5 years could provide 7 Trillion in net benefits. The five areas are: early warning systems; climate-resilient infrastructure; improved dryland agriculture; mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient.

“You don’t have to believe with all your heart that the worst-case scenario is sure to happen. You just have to understand that it is one possible outcome.” This was written by a former climate skeptic who spent years minimising the potential causes and effects of man-made climate change, who finally changed his mind as he realised that the best way forward is to hedge against the worst-possible risk. That’s just what humans usually do if they want to act in their own interests.

I’m reminded of Pascal’s Wager, and instead of asking whether God exists or not, we apply the same wager to climate change. It’s a simple matter of posing that “If we wager that global warming is a serious problem and we need to act urgently then, in a similar way to Pascal’s Wager, there would be relatively little lost if it turns out not to be such a problem and plenty to gain if it is.”

I’m personally of the opinion that given that it seems to be happening anyway, we need to frame the challenge of climate change as an opportunity. An opportunity to take better care of our planet and each other, an opportunity to design solutions, invest billions and train and employ people to mitigate the worst potential effects. Even if the climate doesn’t change significantly we’ll still be better stewards of our environment and planet, which isn’t a bad thing.

We need to talk to our young people about what’s happening, and where the opportunities lie. They understand that the climate is changing and that matters, and as adults we can help prompt conversations about what’s happening, the opportunities that exist and actions that we can take.

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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