Could the arts be the key to educating children about the climate crisis and ultimately be the solution we’ve all been searching for?
There is no denying the widespread general awareness of the climate crisis the world is facing. Global warming has never been such a universally discussed topic, yet no one seems to know where or how to start addressing it. From David Attenborough to Greta Thunberg, Green Peace to Extinction rebellion, school strikes, documentaries, Earth Day, Veganism, tree planting and campaigns addressing plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, we have been exposed to it all. So why is the planet still getting warmer?
What is climate change?
In simple terms, climate change is the shift of global climate patterns caused by the effect humans have had on the planet. The consequence, global warming, has been generated by a significant upsurge in fossil fuel usage since the mid 20th century. Collectively we know and understand this to mean an increase in temperature to the earth's atmosphere, but what are the direct results of this?
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has outlined four main areas of concern:
1. Polar regions and Icecaps melting
In the last thirty years, areas as large as Norway have melted in the Arctic due to the rapid climb in temperatures. The immediate effect of icecaps melting is a surge in ocean temperatures, a rise in sea levels and a general acceleration of the climate change process. As Greenpeace succinctly puts it, “When the Arctic ice melts, the oceans around it absorb more sunlight and heat up, making the world warmer as a result.”
2. The rise in ocean temperatures
“Changes in ocean temperatures and currents brought about by climate change will lead to alterations in climate patterns around the world.” say the Environmental Protection Agency. This directly impacts the global weather patterns and causes sea levels to rise, endangering human life with a risk of severe tropical storms, and flooding. Oceans provide us with a natural carbon sink, however, elevated levels of dissolved carbon have caused a surge in acidity levels. This is causing coral reefs to die, resulting in a loss of habitat and lack of protein for many fish species, affecting the biodiversity and natural balance of the ocean's ecosystem.
“Forests are vitally important as they soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, and help regulate the world’s climate” explain the WWF, which is why it is so crucial that we protect them. Unsustainable industrial activities have led to half of global forest land being lost “setting us on a course for runaway global warming.”
4. Species being threatened by extinction
The effect of all other above issues, due to habitat loss and extreme weather patterns among other reasons, is animal extinction. Polar bears, Orangutans, Tigers, Asian Rhinos and African elephants, to name only a few, could all cease to exist within the next 30 years if we do not implement considerable change now.
“Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.” Leonardo DiCaprio 2019
Can children save the world?
Children are the key to the future. If we can advocate for a heightened awareness of actions that put the planet in significant danger, then humanity stands a chance of survival. As they grow up, increased understanding of these issues should encourage them to make better choices than previous generations, thus making smaller footprints on the earth.
A the 2020 article in the Guardian, ‘Teaching climate crisis in classrooms critical for children, top educators say’, addressed this very issue. Writer, Oliver Milman observes how, according to an NPR survey, teachers and parents alike would like to see a mandatory ruling of environmental teaching in schools. He continues by writing, “with many younger people deeply alarmed over how their future will be strafed by soaring heat, wildfires and flooding” thus bringing the readers attention onto the growing shared distress students are also feeling about the ongoing crisis.
Due to climate change being far more evident to children now than previously and a new collective increase in curiosity surrounding the issues has been observed. Moreover, teachers have found a significant rise in environment-related questions from their students, but are often ill-equipped with factual information to be able to answer. The NPR article and survey, ‘Most Teachers Don't Teach Climate Change; 4 In 5 Parents Wish They Did’, discovered that although 86% of the teachers asked, do believe climate change should be taught, more than half of these won’t even attempt to discuss it in the classroom. The most common explanation and the excuse given was due to a serious lack of teaching knowledge on the subject. The article goes on to talk about other obstacles discouraging teachers to introduce more environmental topics to their work and found that “when [teachers were] asked to rank the importance of climate change, it fell to near the bottom of a list of priorities for expanding the curriculum, behind science and math, basic literacy and financial education”, providing yet another excuse for the neglected subject.
It is not only our duty as adults, to be honest with children about the current state of the planet, but it is paramount for us to provide them with the necessary tools to be able to cope with this crisis as they grow up. We need to prepare them for a future unlike anything ever previously experienced, allowing them the crucial opportunity to start exploring potential solutions to our problems through critical thinking. Without an education on these issues, and awareness being brought to their attention about a green economy, a reduction in fossil fuels and other sustainability options, how do we ever expect to change?
Why is creativity so important in schools?
When defining creativity in its most basic form, it is described as using imagination and original ideas to create. Anamaria Dutceac Segesten in her article ‘Creativity in Education’ observed the primary benefits to "include independent thinking and adaptive problem- solving, and success when meeting new and unexpected challenges”. The perfect set of skills to begin to solve the climate crisis.
“Since 2014 there has been a 28.1% decline in the overall uptake of creative subjects at GCSE” stated Deborah Annetts, founder of BACC for the Future campaign, when GCSE results were released in 2019. A more recent report, in December 2020, revealed "the devastating impact” the Coronavirus pandemic has had on this, only adding to the growing concern surrounding the decline of art subjects in education.
There are several considerable reasons why creativity is crucial in children’s learning. Alongside the boost in critical thinking that creativity seems to enable, it is one of the few things accessible for all children regardless of ability and can be especially useful in engaging children who would otherwise struggle with academic work. Providing equity between all learners, equal engagement, and provoking a personal response to tasks set, some children, otherwise overlooked, might even discover talents they were unaware of. Dr Pronita Mehrotra summarised the benefits of creativity successfully in her article ‘Why creativity should be taught in schools’, observing that “when students are challenged to view a subject from different perspectives, it leads to deeper learning” providing further evidence in supporting the theory.