Our planet’s future is in the hands of the youth

Our planet’s future is in the hands of the youth

Climate activism is no longer the domain of stereotypical ‘tree-hugging’ elite. The world’s youth have turned this fight for our planet on its head. Climate change education driven by schools is, now more than ever, needed to further these efforts

The 2010s were a decade of disruption. The Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence and cemented the growing role of modern-day activist movements, while the use of smartphones proliferated, becoming as ubiquitous as pen and paper. The youth of the 2010s went on to capture many an imagination with their hard-hitting, authentic brand of climate activism. Who could forget the bold efforts of 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, who started skipping school in 2018 to strike for climate action outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, or Somali-American high schooler Irsa Hirsi, who co-founded the U.S. Climate Strike?

While discourse and activism on climate change has been nothing new among the youth in decades gone by, this cohort of activists has been described as ‘’louder and more coordinated than its predecessors’’. Climate change, for them, has become a human rights pursuit. They acknowledge that intersectionality is at the heart of climate justice, and that these challenges affect the marginalised in unique and overlapping ways. This approach has proven more effective than an esoteric call to action to save polar bears that gives no recognition to the human-environment connection.

This paradigm shift has given the climate change cause the gravitas to propel ordinary people to act. Now, these efforts must be sustained. This is where climate change education, driven by schools, is key to achieving critical mass for change.

Cognisant of this, non-profit VVOB and GreenMatter in partnership with Fundisa for Change, founded the Keep it Cool- Climate Change Education (KIC-CCE) project in 2019. Funded by the Flanders government, the project which spans three years, was formed to tackle the underutilisation of the South African education sector as a strategic resource to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Among its aims are to address climate change education in education policy, overcome the fragmentation of knowledge, policy and practice between key actors and implement innovative, curriculum-aligned projects involving learners and communities. KIC-CCE has been implemented in 100 secondary schools in KZN, Eastern Cape and Limpopo, supported by multiple actors at national, provincial and district level.

Projects like KIC-CCE align with emerging research that suggests that climate action at a scale of 10,000-100,000 people is optimal. If this is applied to education systems, it appears that school districts are the perfect network of institutions. These districts that have enough community connection potential, which enables climate change education interventions to be community-driven, locally relevant and tied to local community-environment challenges.

Narrowing down continent-specific, country-specific and ultimately community-specific climate challenges is especially critical. On the African continent, scientists predict that climate change will have the most harmful impact on food security. South Africa is particularly affected, as the observed rate of warming has been 2°C per century or even higher – more than twice the global rate. The IPCC Climate Change and Land special report has found that higher temperatures from global warming in tropical and semi-tropical regions in South Africa are already reducing quantities of quality fruit and vegetables. As fruit trees and vegetable plants produce less in quantity and quality, this inevitably leads to rising prices to offset increasing demand.

With scientists clearly sounding the alarm on the imminent climate crisis in our own backyard, pioneering South African schools have embarked on deconolising climate change by actively designing and leading projects aimed at curbing its calamitous consequences.

Edible school gardens, for instance, teach young people to grow fruits and vegetables in environmentally sustainable ways. These gardens become community hubs that feed families and nourish the community’s relationship to the land, while teaching children how to innovatively mitigate climate risks.

Baraneng Primary School in Atteridgeville has cultivated three award-winning organic fruit and vegetable gardens since 1998, which it has used to supplement its school nutrition programme, as well as creatively teach subjects like mathematics and science. Over the years, learners have been exposed to recycling processes, and have gained a deeper understanding on topics such as nutrition and soil erosion.

Learners at Van Wyksvlei Primary in Wellington began planting an organic garden at the school in May 2021.  A once small plot of ‘’dirt’’ was transformed into a fresh produce market offering a variety of vegetables. The Seed 2 Harvest Foundation supported the garden with organic garden starter kits, and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture assisted with irrigation, infrastructure and production output to the value of R40 500. Today, the garden continues to produce vegetables for learners to take home, while the rest are sold to the community. And in a fitting commemoration of Youth Day last year, the Department of Agriculture’s One Household: One Garden initiative was also extended to the school, with each learner given gardening starter packs to take home.

We have witnessed the youth’s rallying call to save our planet. A tumultuous 2020 saw this activism take back seat as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked unprecedented havoc around the globe. As we move forward, the youth have an opportunity to lead once again – to impress upon adults the urgency of climate change reform. Climate change education in schools must play a pivotal role in making this happen.

About the author:

Zah’Rah Khan heads up the editorial team at Citizen Leader Lab (formerly Symphonia for South Africa). Her focus areas are education, politics, law and research. Both Baraneng and Van Wkysvlei Primary have participated in Citizen Leader Lab’s flagship leadership development programme, Partners for Possibility.