We now have a generation of young people that are fully aware of the need for urgent action on climate change. We saw this through the determination of many young people to go on strike during the summer term. These strikes by students and school pupils across the country, inspired as so many campaigns are, by the action of just a single student in Sweden, have changed the landscape for ever. There is no going back.
But, equally, striking is not enough. Strikes draw attention to an issue, but after time they lose their impact and can damage the very cause they seek to champion, by creating a familiarity of protest.
Following the motion passed by the Lib Dems at their Conference, I have devised a set of priorities for the education sector. These actions will help to start the fight by the education sector against the harmful effects of climate change. These are just a start, but they offer the chance to inspire and encourage each and every schools to play its part in the better use of our planet and its finite resources.
This is a challenge for the education sector as a whole, not just for state schools. Climate change challenges all education providers, from primary schools to higher education, and from small village schools to our chains of international private schools with campuses across the globe.
But let’s start by ensuring that by the end of this school-year every school has at least one charging point for an electric vehicle. This should be simple to achieve as it needs no new technology and a network of suppliers is in place to fit these points, either wall or column mounted. Of course, more than one point would be better, but let’s start the ball rolling with a simple and achievable target.
To supply the electricity of these charging points, schools need a new incentive to use their roof space for the installation of photo-voltaic panels. Such a scheme would also provide a boost to this industry as it suffers from the ending government schemes for domestic properties.
But, the obvious use of roofs is not enough. School playgrounds are the most under-used of our public spaces. How can we make better use of them during the hours of daylight when they are empty of children and achieving nothing?
More research is needed for cost effective solutions, but I am inspired by the work being undertaken in car parks to design column-based PV panels. Earlier this year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Hobart’s ‘funnies’ played an important part in the success of that day; creating tanks that flailed minefields; bridged gullies and even swam through the sea. Such ingenuity in respect of playgrounds can create panels that are vertical when playgrounds are in use, but spread out horizontally to generate electricity when children are not about.
This technology can be allied to the desire by the current government to create a world-leading battery technology industry. Schools are at the hub of their communities, so local generation of energy stored when created and released when needed help challenge the notion of power creation and distribution we are all familiar with.
Many of our schools are still badly insulated. So we need a scheme to use a portion of the cash for education to reduce heat loss in schools through an insulation scheme for walls and ceilings.
I started with a simple initiative that would be obvious to pupils concerned to see action locally. Another such initiative is to require schools to replace all gas cooking in their kitchen by electric ovens, hobs and other appliances. I would also ask the design and technology departments to consider the use of gas in their home economics departments.
On a bigger scale is the replacement of gas-fired boilers by other forms of heating. This is a big ask and we need to discuss with industry leaders how this might be achieved.
Up until now, education has not lead the charge in fighting the battle to save our planet. The younger generation has rightly challenged us to change that approach, from one of passive reluctance to an active demonstration of what can be achieved.
Let me end on a challenge to those very students that have been striking for action on climate change and their other classmates that support them, but have not taken direct action. Now is the time for you to do something; each and every one of you.
Let’s start by addressing the journey you take every day to and from school. I am fortunate to have within my county division The Cherwell School.
As well as being an outstanding secondary school, this school actively promotes the benefits of cycling and walking to school, with impressive results. Their Transport Action Group ensures the issue remains top of the agenda and is not seen as a one-off tick box exercise. We should aim to promote and reward such actions and will discuss how we might incentivise both schools and pupils to achieve a significant reduction in car journeys to and from school. I especially challenge the independent sector to work with us on this task, as I know it is a real issue for many of those schools that draw pupils from a wide distance.
For a sector where the pupils took the issue of climate change seriously, but the establishment too often didn’t do more than pay lip service to the issue, let us move to one inspired by the strikes to create the action necessary to say that in both England and across the whole of the United Kingdom we have an education system we can be proud of in terms of its forward thinking contribution to decisive action on climate change.