News from Schools October 23, 2019

Weekly Message From Keystone Academy Head of School

Dear Families,

Friday September 20, one week before our Golden Week holiday, was Climate Action Day for 2019, across the world. Many people went on strike for the day, and in some countries students stayed away from school and college, in order to raise awareness of this vital and urgent matter. In the few weeks since then, our planet has been degraded even further by human activity. Some of us, but not yet a sufficient number, are becoming more and more aware, in this era of the anthropocene, of what is happening to our world. One of these is the young 16-year old climate activist from Sweden, Greta Thunberg.

The weekly Head of School assembly, which occupies the final class period of every week, fell to the Middle School on Climate Action Day. I showed the students two short videos about climate change, and then spoke a little about Greta Thunberg, an inspirational teenager in my opinion, who is exactly the same age as our older Middle School students. Greta had just crossed the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat, a carbon sensitive way of traveling, in order to address the United Nations. This she did a few days later, and she was very direct in her intense and unyielding way. Amongst other things she said: ‘you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words’; ‘entire ecosystems are collapsing’; ‘we are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money’; ‘you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is’.

One person who is mature enough to tell it like it is, and has been doing so for many years, is Bill McKibben, prolific writer on the environment and founder of 350.org. Take a look at the 350 website. Bill’s latest book, published this year, is called Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? The question that he raises in the title of his book, and that he explores in detail throughout it, is whether we are in the last stages of human civilization as we know it, and whether we may be presiding over a total species collapse, induced by us.

Owing to Bill McKibben’s status as a pre-eminent environmental sage, it was fitting that the Guardian newspaper in England had asked him to contribute, on Climate Action Day, a list of reasons why people should strike, and not go to work for the day. I showed the students his list in that assembly, and we read them together as they were scrolled down screen. Here they are, in full:

Strike because the people who did the least to cause this crisis suffer first and worst – the people losing their farms to desert and watching their islands sink beneath the waves aren’t the ones who burned the coal and gas and oil.

Strike because coral reefs are so gloriously beautiful and complex – and so vulnerable.

Strike because sun and wind are now the cheapest way to generate power around the world – if we could match the political power of the fossil fuel industry we could make fast progress.

Strike because we’ve already lost half the animals on the planet since 1970 – the earth is a lonelier place.

Strike because our governments move with such painful slowness, treating climate change as, at worst, one problem on a long list.

Strike because this could be the great opportunity – and maybe the last opportunity – to transform our society towards justice and towards joy. Green New Deals have been proposed around the world; they are a way forward.

Strike because forests now seem like fires waiting to happen.

Strike because young people have asked us to. In a well-ordered society, when kids make a reasonable request their elders should say yes – in this case with real pride and hope that the next generations are standing up for what matters.

Strike because every generation faces some great crisis, and this is ours.

Strike because half the children in New Delhi have irreversible lung damage simply from breathing the air.

Strike because Exxon and the rest knew all about global warming in the 1980s, and then lied so they could keep cashing in.

Strike because what we do this decade will matter for hundreds of thousands a year.

Strike because the temperature has hit 129F (54C) in big cities in recent summers. The human body can survive that, but only for a few hours.

Strike because do we want to be the first generations to leave the planet in worse shape?

Strike because batteries are ever cheaper – we can now store sunshine at night, and wind for a calm day.

Strike because the UN estimates unchecked climate change could create a billion refugees this century.

Strike because the big banks continue to lend hundreds of billions to the fossil fuel industry – people are literally trying to get rich off the destruction of the planet.

Strike because what animal fouls its own nest?

Strike because indigenous people around the world are trying to protect their rightful land from the coal and oil companies – and in the process protect all of us.

Strike because every time they cut down a patch of rainforest to grow some more cows, the climate math gets harder.

Strike because science is real, because physics exists, because chemistry matters.

Strike so you can look your grandkid – or anyone else’s – in the eye.

Strike because the world we were given is still so sweet.

This is a long, mind-numbing list. I suggested to the students that it might be a valuable exercise to select from it just five, the five that seemed personally most meaningful or compelling, and then act on them in some way. I showed and shared with them my five, below:

Strike because we’ve already lost half the animals on the planet since 1970 – the earth is a lonelier place.

Strike because forests now seem like fires waiting to happen.

Strike because half the children in New Delhi have irreversible lung damage simply from breathing the air.

Strike because the UN estimates unchecked climate change could create a billion refugees this century.

Strike because the world we were given is still so sweet.

I concluded by telling the students that Bill McKibben, despite being an unrelenting and dispassionately scientific realist, remains an optimist. That is why his final injunction is so sweet. Our world is ‘still so sweet’, and there is time to save our species and so many others from the worst depredations of the climate change that we have caused. This work, however, will come mainly from our and your children.
That is another reason why Greta Thunberg is so important.

By Malcolm McKenzie – Head of School @ Keystone Academy

Keystone Academy

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