Teachers – looking for worthwhile activities post SATs or GCSE’s? Here are two free online workshops to stimulate climate conversations between your students.

Dear colleagues,

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…

Best wishes,

Nick Nuttgens

Co-Convenor, Climate Communications Hub, Sheffield


Notes on specific slides/exercises

Workshop 1 
Terms exerciseSame 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.  
Workshop 2 
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 42If 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.

Will the next UK election produce the leaders the planet needs? Or are we going to have to look outside the box?

For those of us in the UK who want to see something serious done soon about the climate and nature emergencies, what are the chances? In a previous post, I shared the work of Hope for the Future, who give wonderful advice on how to approach MPs constructively, and word has it that more MPs are now accepting the environmental agenda, even if they aren’t yet speaking up about it. However, progress feels slow and the country doesn’t yet have a leader who truly ‘gets it’ – see my post on a draft Person Spec for the next PM. So where will we be by the time of the next election in 2024 (or earlier)?

Time to look outside the box for the leaders we need?

What we need is for the next government to be one that is wholly committed to making the sustainability transition central to everything it does, providing an overarching strategy and appropriate legislation to ensure that the private sector as well as the public sector falls in line and both use their innovation and creativity to generate a million solutions to a million problems.

As fast as possible.

Because we need to halve carbon emissions by 2030 if we want to stay below 1.5° of warming.

And that transformation needs to be global, so not only do we need to make radical changes in the UK, we need to set an example and then persuade the rest of the world’s developed economies to follow suit.

How likely is it that we will get such a government? The current Conservative government – and maybe any future Conservative government – although containing some dedicated environmentalists, is most deeply dedicated to the small state and the free market.

And the level playing field we need cannot be provided without state-led legislation, rigorous monitoring and effective support. 

So the only hope for a Conservative government is for those people who are genuinely environmentalist within the party to win the battle of ideas and take over the party. The Environmental Audit Committee of MPs is doing fantastic work, as far as I can see. It seems to be covering a wide range of topics, acknowledging the real challenges and doing its best to make other departments aware of what needs to happen. And the Conservative Environment Network is also plugging away, trying to get more MPs on board and increasing their awareness. 

But I really don’t know how much power these people have against the vested interests in favour of the fossil fuel companies and the small staters. I fear that they are just a handful of idealists who at best will only be able to nudge their colleagues towards a few token actions, rather than the necessary systemic shift. The whole Net Zero Strategy frankly smacks of this: loads of pages saying quite a few of the right things but unfortunately also saying a number of completely inadequate things, shoved together to give an impression of the government taking the subject seriously – when in fact, we have seen very little substantial action at all since it was published. 

My suspicions about the ineffectiveness of the environmentally minded Conservative MPs might be allayed if they would own up honestly to the problems of duplicitous fossil fuel companies, the philosophy of perpetual growth, libertarian opposition to regulation, etc. A convincing strategy not only lays out the vision and the steps towards that vision, it also identifies the likely obstacles and the solutions to them. I’m not seeing that level of realism and honesty from these people yet. So, despite their sincere efforts, I am not convinced we can rely on the Conservative government.*

On the other hand, what are the chances of Labour getting in and doing the job? On his website, Starmer has a good page on the Green New Deal. The trouble is, he is not putting it up front as the key plank of his vision. He is still playing a game of focus group politics, saying things he hopes will appeal to red wall voters and swing voters, but not telling them the truth. Hardly compelling leadership for a time of historic and existential threat. 

It’s not a totally hopeless case; were Labour to get in, with the commitments it has outlined so far, there is a chance that those in the party who do understand the urgency and severity of the crisis would push Starmer to enact a ‘green industrial revolution’, but would they go deeper? Would they question patterns of overconsumption? Would they maintain the assumption of continual growth? Would they be capable of doing the new thinking that is needed and of taking the population with them? 

Even more worryingly, are they capable of even winning the election? There is some hope that the Tories will have sufficiently alienated voters to lose the next one and Starmer may ascend the throne by default. But for me, at the moment, neither he nor his party are presenting a compelling, truthful vision and plan. And that suggests to me that they really still don’t get it; we can’t save the planet with a collection of fragmented short-term projects designed to appeal to those who don’t really understand the problem. It absolutely has to be a concerted project of radical change – all hands on deck, or we all sink.

A progressive coalition government might be a better solution than relying on Labour alone. For that to happen, we probably need to see a progressive alliance during the run-up to the election. Not only might this usher in proportional representation, allowing more environmentally concerned candidates into Parliament in the future, but I would hope that Caroline Lucas (and perhaps some other green MPs) could shift Labour and the Lib Dems in the direction of a root and branch sustainability strategy.

That seems the best hope to me, in terms of working in the mainstream. However, I don’t know what the current state of play is, regarding a progressive alliance. It’s worrying that it hasn’t worked out in the past. 

The other, more radical fantasy I have is that those of us who do truly get it prepare an alternative government in waiting. Because, frankly, the current lot may well be too embroiled in ineffective ways of doing things.**

I guess this implies a coup d’état; it may come to that. We can’t just stand by and watch while a bunch of Ministers of dubious competence, who are ideologically and financially in cahoots with denialists and delayists, obstruct the actions necessary to save human civilisation. As far as I’m concerned, it is the job of a democratically elected government to act in the interests of the nation as a whole and to attend to long-term threats as well as short-term ones. If the current lot are not doing the job, they’re going to have to go. 

But the terrors of the French Revolution are a doleful warning to us all. Any extra-parliamentary, alternative party or movement would have to be fundamentally committed to non-violent, collaborative, constructive dialogue and the collective and individual enactment of the Nolan principles.

As a start, I propose that a consortium of environmental NGOs and campaigning organisations puts together a leadership training programme based on the above principles and a 100% commitment to a rapid and fair transition. They should look around for bright and committed individuals from all sectors of the population who have the existing abilities and the potential to step up as capable leaders for a new sustainable society.

Not only should these candidates have thoroughgoing Carbon Literacy training, but they should also have or be given practical skills development in: 

  • Project design and management 
  • Systems thinking
  • Long term strategic planning 
  • Coalition building and mediation between different ideologies/persuasions 
  • Critical thinking and emotional literacy 
  • Public engagement and communications 
  • Government structures and processes
  • Team leadership
  • Ethics – including how to apply the Nolan Principles

Believe it or not, some MPs don’t have these skills when they are elected; they have to acquire them in post. There will be loads of learning on the job for the new generation of leaders because they will face unprecedented challenges but we do need people who can spring into action with purpose, clarity and realism. 

And there may well need to be a parallel training for civil servants.

I am living with cancer and don’t have the energy to take the lead on this but if anybody wants to do it, I’d love to be on your steering group.

* For any Conservatives who read this, I mean things like: confronting those neoliberals (or whatever you want to call them) who put profit above all else and scorn concern about environmental ‘externalities’; questioning those libertarians who are opposed to all forms of regulation; pinning down those pragmatists who are in effect defeatist, saying it’s all too late anyway; engaging with the organicists who question all forms of short-term radical change, etc. Regarding the role of the state, I was very interested that the facilitator of a webinar run by the Coalition for Conservation in Australia, and a Conservative herself, asked the panel: how do you all feel about the fact that combating climate change will probably require a greater degree of state intervention than we Conservatives normally feel comfortable with?

**I see that Vaclav Havel had a similar concept when he was a dissident in Czechoslovakia in the 1980’s – a “parallel polis”. 


A Person Specification for the Prime Minister we really need

Early in February 2022, it looked like Prime Minister Boris Johnson might soon be out of a job. Subsequent events have probably protected him for a while. But when he does eventually go, will the U.K. get the leader it really needs? If you were a head hunter looking for exceptional candidates to lead the country through an historic transition to a sustainable economy, who would you short-list from our current MPs? Or would you be looking elsewhere?

Here is my draft advert and person specification. Comments very much welcomed.

If you think this is interesting, please share it. You can  subscribe to future posts on the right. It only takes a few seconds. Rest assured: you won’t be inundated. I only write posts occasionally.

Exceptionally able leader needed to guide and inspire the people of the United Kingdom through an epoch-making transition to a sustainable economy. 

The people of the UK, along with populations across the world, are facing the dire implications of the ever worsening climate and nature emergencies, with continuing rises in global temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, rates of extinctions, pollution and waste. The window of opportunity for containing the already inevitable damage is getting smaller by the day. The issues are now on the political agenda and public understanding of the necessity for action is increasing slowly but a massive cultural shift is now required, comparable to but greater than the transformation of the economy at the time of World War II.

Those who truly appreciate the urgency of the situation, despite its insidious invisibility much of the time, realise this is the time for exceptionally committed and capable individuals to step forward to take the country by the hand. The scientific data is undeniable; the United Kingdom, along with its partners in the United Nations, cannot wait until the state of the world becomes so catastrophic that its people finally grasp the necessity for decisive action.

The country needs courageous and fiercely determined leadership to inspire a vision for transformation that workers in all sectors will be willing to contribute to with hope and whole hearts. While no individual Prime Minister or Cabinet can impose a deep cultural shift upon the country, systemic change nonetheless requires clear signals and effective action from the top, with legislation creating a level playing field marked out by unequivocally clear parameters, the disabling of dangerous obstacles and the creation of motivational, practical incentives.

Candidates are invited to step forward who believe themselves capable of shouldering this enormous but exceptionally exciting leadership challenge. They should have as many of the following competencies as possible.

  • A profound understanding of the climate and nature emergencies, the possible solutions thereto and the structural transformation that is required
  • Courage and determination to take the helm of the nation
  • Powerful communicator to explain the situation, tell the truth, convey the urgency, and inspire belief and excitement within the population – in order to generate a shared vision and determination 
  • Sharp thinking strategist, capable of working with experts within government and without to identify and implement the most potent political and legal levers for change 
  • Real world experience of designing, implementing and monitoring systemic change 
  • Ability to carry through the necessary long term transformation whilst also managing and integrating shorter term demands
  • Ability to speak to all sectors of civil society and convince them that the transition will be fair, that we really are all in this together
  • Political expertise to engage all arms of government and the state in a joined up strategy
  • Ability to transcend political divides and build a committed coalition for change
  • Intelligent mediator within own party, able to understand the values and dreams of each faction and enable them to find a mutually acceptable visionary programme
  • Excellent manager and delegator, able to select, direct and collaborate with ministers for decarbonisation attached to each sector of the economy
  • Confident leader on the international stage, able to use the prominence of the U.K. to build a global commitment to a rapid sustainability transition and to minimise the risks of conflict
  • Principled adherent to the Nolan principles of Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.

We are also looking for first rate Ministers and parliamentarians to support the new Prime Minister.

This huge and exciting challenge cannot be met by a single individual. The new Prime Minister will need a government and a parliament of unparalleled skill and intellectual ability, each and every person committed to the team effort and to the highest standards of probity. Candidates are therefore also sought for the next general election who are fundamentally committed to:

  1. Designing and taking decisive actions for the rapid decarbonisation of the UK economy, to half of its current levels by 2030;
  2. Ensuring that the transformation commands the support of the general population and protects their livelihoods (a just transition);
  3. Observing the Nolan principles in everything that they do.

Might you be one of these people? Do you know someone who might be? This is a time for people with truly great leadership skills and potential to step forwards and make history.