The connection between clean windscreens and school strikes

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In Falmouth in recent weeks the local council has declared a ‘Climate Emergency’.

Councillor Jayne Kirkham said:

Members voted for the amended motion, almost unanimously, to declare a climate emergency today in line with other local governments across the world covering 17.5 million people, including London and Manchester. Our ambition to become carbon neutral by 2030 and the report we will prepare to help us to do so, will put Cornwall on the front line in combating climate change.

Cabinet Portfolio Holder for the environment Sue James said:

Climate change is already here and having effects in Cornwall, like the unprecedented rainfall causing flooding in Coverack in July 2017 and the significant late snow last year.

So things are happening at very local levels now in terms of preparing for the changes we will all see and children are taking ‘Climate Action’ too by striking from their local schools. The movement started in August 2018 when a 16-year-old schoolgirl Greta Thunberg held a solo protest outside Sweden’s parliament. Her protest caught the imagination of children worldwide and up to 70,000 schoolchildren every week are now striking and taking time off from school in 270 towns and cities worldwide. This Friday 15th February 2019 the UK joins in, with thousands of children expected to walk out of lessons in protest.

Jake Woodier, of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, which is helping to coordinate the strikes said:

Young people see what is happening – especially since the IPCC report last year, which spelt out that we only have 12 years left to avoid catastrophic climate change … they realise that politicians are nowhere near where they need to be on this and want to do something to change that.

So, what can they do and does walking out of school help?

This summer whilst driving between Somerset and Cornwall I noticed something strange, my car had covered over 350 miles and there were hardly any insects on it – none on the windscreen and hardly any around the front of the car. In the past, I would have been scrubbing all manner of flying insect life off the car, a sad but unavoidable consequence of travel, but this year the numbers of flying insects seemed to have collapsed and my car didn’t need a clean. Traffic is one of the reasons insect populations are collapsing, they physically get squashed, but the pollution cars create is also a factor, however this isn’t the biggest reason for the collapse of insect poulations and biodiversity loss.

Today an article has been published in the Guardian ‘Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten the collapse of nature’ and it made me think what the children could possibly be sticking for and what perhaps they could do to help the situation.

Perhaps children could start to be made to realise that they already play a part as stakeholders in the future, but rather than simply demanding action from governments perhaps they should take and demand action themselves at a more local level, the school level. Their strikes will give them power and we should embrace it and guide them rather than fight it. We should try to use their passion and energy for positive change.

If the scientists behind the article on insects are correct then we have a big, big problem coming fast as 41% of global insect species have declined in the past 10 years and in some places we have lost 98% already!

Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia said:

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is shocking. It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.

I don’t think we will end up with no insects, but certainly, much less diversity and the world food supply will struggle. Intensive agriculture, pesticides, lack of habitat and climate change are all major factors in this problem and the children are protesting about that as big business and the economy is driving this. They are right to throw a spotlight on the issue but it would also be great if the children who intend to go on strike on Friday in the UK and around the world really focused on what can be done today and their food is one of the most obvious subjects to look at.

If the children who strike then go home and continue in their normal ways they will have achieved very little, but if they could perhaps set, or try to set an example for us all wouldn’t that be amazing? Perhaps children should insist that schools only source and serve organically locally produced food and remove or very drastically reduce any meat or fish options on the school menu as they are a huge driver of climate change and pollution? This might be impossible at the child’s home, for a whole host of reasons, but perhaps school’s should be challenged by children to start to educate and make a difference in that area? Are there unloved flowerbeds, scraps of land or hedges and margins around sports fields that could become more biodiverse to provide homes and habitat for wildlife and insects? What about establishing a school garden? We literally need schools buzzing with life! Could schools install renewable energy sources? Does their school tolerate plastic bottles – if so why not make a reusable metal bottle part of the school uniform?

There are so many things that children can achieve by being positive, active and knowledgable and they need to show us the way. If you have children who are striking on Friday, or if you work in a school that is affected then perhaps try and harness that anger and turn it around into positivity as we all need the younger generation to lead the way and so we should try and enable them to do so. Lots of them will need to be given some facts and figures and might be shocked that they themselves are part of the problem – but also part of the solution.

Schools and children have a very special relationship that can really help with the climate crisis. By working together with schools children can make a big difference to the outcomes for all. Creative thinking, maybe changing some of the subjects and ideas that are currently taught, creating a culture of using less and being more sustainable at the individual level with scientific evidence to support this and by schools taking on the big issues and embracing them in positive and dynamic ways would be fantastic to see. How flexible can a school be with what it can deliver? Maybe that needs to be addressed by headteachers at government level too?

We should work with the movement that Greta Thunberg has created and enable children to achieve so much through their passion and actions. Striking and leaving the safety of a school isn’t a great idea and presents a lot of safety issues, but children harnessing their passion and power to disrupt the system in some way is needed. We all need to be challenged from time to time and this is a critical moment as time is short and we need to hear the children and work together with them to secure our shared future.