Updated: Feb 28
With a world on track for wipe-out, education is my chosen vehicle for hope.
We’ve all heard the stats: exponential growth of population, species going extinct, ice melting, seas rising, deserts growing, and an entire economic system that is dependent on the exploitation of the earth by the richest few at the cost of all living beings.
Hope is not the same as unfounded positivity: that is denial, which leads only to further destruction. Even as I write, ancient woodlands are being cut down in this country: hundreds of habitats destroyed by our government to make way for yet another railway, carried out at a time when the need for social distancing means fewer protesters will be present. On all fronts, the situation is dire. And yet, without hope, we can do nothing.
Hope is the belief that, however slim the chances, there may yet be a way through. It is stubbornly holding onto this possibility that gives me energy to get up in the morning and motivates me to work towards it. Some put their hope in research; others in activism; others in conservation work. My chosen vehicle for hope is education.
When I first learnt about climate change in year 4, I immediately found some friends and started up the school ‘Green Club’. I remember others giggling when we preached our message: “Don’t waste things, or the world will end and we’ll all die.” Children are so wonderfully black and white about complex issues … and I was not wrong! By year 6, my Green Club had taken over a neglected patch at the front of the school and turned it into a garden. It was about 20m2 and four of us went in every lunchtime to weed, plant and water using only cups run back and forth from the toilets. Often, we let others in, one at a time, showing them each plant and where they could stand without damaging anything.
As an adult, I have something to learn from that intuitive response, which was to work together to educate those around me and then reconnect them with the natural world. After all, “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” (Attenborough). Fast forward 20 years and I am the ‘outdoor learning leader’ at a similar school. The hope that gets me out of bed is that somehow I might reconnect children with what it means to flourish, and through them, families, communities and eco-systems.
I hope that when children learn to grow food; when they reconnect with their bodies through care of plants and animals and outdoor exercise; when they are taught to notice the small joys around them – the colour of a blue tit, the dappled shade of a tree, the stripes of a caterpillar; then they will have the maximum chance of a life with good physical and mental health.
I hope that when they learn about the catastrophe of climate breakdown, they will grow up to lead the change that the world is so desperately in need of.
It’s only hope. But it’s all we’ve got.