In June 2021, I recorded two workshops aimed at Y6 and above for the Schools Climate Education Conference in South Yorkshire. The workshops are still available and are free. Below you’ll find a few notes explaining my approach; I hope these will help you decide whether to use the workshops or not. At the bottom, you will find some notes on specific slides/exercises.
The workshop recordings can be found here: https://www.scesy.org.uk/day2-climate-conversations/
Climate conversations: how to get young people talking about the climate emergency
In all climate education efforts, we have to balance the ‘bad news’ about how urgent the crisis is with the ‘good news’ about all the positive developments currently taking place. I don’t think there is any easy answer to the question ‘what is the right balance?’ I think you have to sense where your pupils are, at any given moment. It is important not to avoid difficult questions, topics or viewpoints, otherwise the young people may feel you’re not being completely straight with them. On the other hand, there is no doubt that talking about climate change can stir up difficult feelings for young people (and for adults – it’s one reason why we don’t talk about it enough!)
My rule of thumb, taken from George Marshall, the founder of Climate Outreach, is “place negative information in a narrative arc that leads to a positive resolution.” In other words, don’t avoid the difficult topics, recognise them, recognise the feelings they may bring up, but then build a sense of hope and agency by moving the discussion onto solutions – what the young people (and others) can actually do to make a difference.
That will of course be more convincing if you, as staff, and the school overall are seen to be taking consistent action too.
The young people on the last climate conversations course that I led reported that they felt relieved and encouraged to talk about these issues with their peers, from a personal perspective, not just an informational one. Young people know that the problem exists but they often can’t see how they can relate to it or what they can do about it. Hearing their peers’ feelings and views can be reassuring. The same is true of adults: none of us can solve this problem on our own, we can feel powerless too, but we feel better when we see that we are part of a cultural shift towards a sustainable society.
When the solutions that are needed are clearly beyond what young people or ordinary adult citizens have the power to do, then shift the discussion onto what they think governments and big businesses can do. Obviously, this risks veering into overtly political territory, but there are well-established pedagogical principles in schools (e.g. within citizenship, politics and economics) of teaching impartially about the role of government, seen from different perspectives. Since the UK government signed a declaration of climate emergency, the topic has moved firmly onto the mainstream political agenda, and the moral case for educating young people about it, both the problems and the solutions, is undeniable.
(It may be useful to offer further support to any young person who is experiencing eco-anxiety.)
Facilitation of the workshops:
I ended up with (I think) enough material for two one-hour lessons. I apologise if I didn’t calculate this quite right; these are my first recorded workshops. I’m used to being able to ‘read the room’. The material in the second workshop is a bit more grown-up – especially the final exercise on values. In introducing this exercise, I emphasised the importance of respecting your conversation partner but you may want to reinforce that point.
I would encourage you to see these as workshops rather than lessons, and you may need to explain that. The aim is to lead the young people into having meaningful conversations and to give them some tips and tools for making these more likely to happen with family and friends outside of the classroom. The aim is not to test the young people’s knowledge and understanding of climate change.
However, if you feel that it is appropriate, given what is coming up in their discussions, to feed in certain key facts that would reassure the young people and support them in initiating their own conversations, of course do so. If I had longer, I myself would probably include some exercises about the basic facts of global warming that are useful for all of us to know when talking to family and friends (what is now commonly referred to as ‘carbon literacy’.) For example, as an early exercise, I often ask students to prepare a short presentation in groups explaining what global warming is, in an interesting way. Feel free to adapt these materials if you think it would be helpful to add in more information-based exercises, but please do keep the emphasis on promoting constructive dialogue, rather than right or wrong answers. (I don’t think any of us knows all the answers to this one!)
I have indicated in the video where I am suggesting that the young people talk and for how long. You may, of course, want to manage that differently. If you need to keep the pace up, you may prefer to have a quick whole class brainstorm rather than work in pairs, but I have included a lot of work in pairs because it allows people to do their own thinking, to practice their asking and listening skills, and to have a degree of confidentiality.
Below you will find some notes that explain what the various terms and pictures are.
I hope you’ll have a go! Perhaps you will feel inspired to have more climate conversations yourself…
Co-Convenor, Climate Communications Hub, Sheffield
Notes on specific slides/exercises
|Terms exercise||Same meaning: Global warming / climate change / global heating / global weirding (the latter isn’t very widespread but it has been proposed as a way to explain that global warming isn’t a smooth trend but gives rise to lots of strange extreme weather events.) ‘Global heating’ is being used more e.g. by some newspapers to heighten the sense of danger; ‘warming’ sounds too innocuous and ‘change’ is too vague. |
Same meaning: Biodiversity crisis / ecological emergency – and species extinction is one aspect of that. Air pollution is a different matter – but it is related in that it is usually caused by fossil fuels.
|Picture exercise: actions people can take to reduce their carbon emissions.||Travel by high-speed train instead of aeroplane |
Eat less beef and more plant-based food
Wear pre-loved clothes
Buy an electric car (or get your guardian to)
Cycle instead of asking your guardian for a lift
Learn how to insulate houses so they need the minimum of heating
Buy plant-based trainers*
Email or visit your local MP or councillor to tell them you care Save electricity (e.g. wash your clothes on the eco-cycle)
Join demonstrations calling for action from politicians *”Replacing leather with figs, potatoes, coconuts and even pineapples, these plant-based shoes are good enough to eat”.
|Picture exercise: pictures related to climate change.||Teacher – you may want to ask which images they discussed and then give them a bit of information about them (remembering that the aim of the workshop is to get them doing the talking.) |
Cement and concrete production causes a high level of carbon emissions – about 8% of the total globally. Ice cores are one of the ways that scientists can discover how much carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere in past centuries.
When cows burp and fart, they produce methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas.
Buses and cars could in future be powered by hydrogen, but not everybody agrees that this would be a good thing.
British designer Kate Morris was named the winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2017, following the grand final in Hong Kong.
Fertilisers made from nitrogen help crop production but they also produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 time stronger than carbon dioxide. 2020 was the largest wildfire season recorded in California’s modern history.
In 2019, Extinction Rebellion protesters dressed up as ghostly figures in blood red costumes to draw attention to the problem of climate change.
The gases produced by refrigeration are a major contributor to global warming. Project Drawdown has identified resolving the refrigeration problem as one of the central challenges of becoming sustainable.
In 2019, Sheffield experienced floods. Floods are likely to be one of the main impacts of climate change in the UK.
The Panda Solar Power Plant in Datong in China is shaped like the country’s treasured animal.
The Paris agreement in 2015 was the first time that all the world’s governments agreed to cut their carbon emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5°.
UK electric car ownership jumped 53% in 2020. There are now more than 20,000 charge points across the country.
This house in Fulford, near York, is a ‘passive house’. Its walls are so thick that it doesn’t need any heating. So no bills!
|Slide 42||If your class wants some tips on how to handle friends and relatives who are climate sceptics, there is a useful YouTube video here: George Marshall video: How to talk to a climate change denier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp-nJKBwQR4 For a short summary, play the final section – 16 mins to the end. However, please note that he uses the phrase ‘pissed off’ and this may not be suitable for your students/school.|