This first-person article is the experience of Heather Short, a scientist and educator who lives in the greater Montreal area. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.
I have spent nearly 15 years teaching students geology, earth systems science, climate literacy, and current man-made climatic and ecological crises at John Abbott College on the Island of Montreal. My interactions with them have been by far the most rewarding part of my job.
I will miss them, and not see that spark of excitement when they learned something new. However, it is clear to me now that teaching young people about these crises without a coherent, science-informed institutional and cultural framework to support climate culture is doing them more harm than good. Let me explain.
I came to this conclusion after many months of reflection, informed by teaching thousands of students what the best available science predicts for their future. The climate science consensus tells us that the world must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% 2010 levels by 2030 in order to have a 66% chance of avoiding a cascade of extreme weather events that will be unstoppable in their lifetime.
Currently, countries are committed to reducing their emissions of a world total of 0.5 percent by 2030.
We (privileged people in rich countries) have a very short window of opportunity to take decisive and systemic action to avoid the worst consequences of climate degradation. Not only do our current emissions targets put us far behind where we need to be, but our province’s 50-year-old education system lacks the support our students need to cope with this reality.
Teaching this to an 18 year old is like telling him he has cancer and then pulling him out and saying “sorry, good luck on that”.
It is also fundamentally unfair and unfair for us – who are among the generations that have benefited from unmitigated resource extraction and emissions – to let go of the responsibility of fixing (or adapting to) the climate crisis in their young tricks.
They deserve a liveable future, and they deserve our apologies, immediate action, and emotional support to navigate an uncertain future. Honesty, transparency and an open dialogue on these climatic and ecological crises must be at the heart of our education.
I know it won’t be easy. Denial is a human and understandable response to extremely overwhelming information. But as adults who are able to take action in the lives of our students, we need to understand – at the bare minimum – the climate science they are learning in school so that we can lend a sympathetic ear to their concerns about their education. future and give them – some expert advice on what to do.
The younger generations need to hear from us that they are not alone, that we will work for them to reduce emissions as quickly as possible. They need us to demonstrate that we will give up some of our own security and privilege in a system that does not adapt to the demands of the scientific consensus on the climate emergency, in order to change that system.
To meet this need, I proposed a job restructuring as a Climate Literacy Specialist which admittedly did not fit easily into the current hiring / employment structure (or collective agreement) to college. Rather, that was the point. It was designed against the backdrop of repeated calls – by thousands of scientists – for immediate transformative system change.
This kind of change needs to happen in all aspects of society, including educational institutions. Obviously, this can only happen under leadership prepared to be bold and courageous in response – to think and act outside the norms that have led to permanent and comfortable jobs and a state of the world in which the latter A year of pandemic, fire, floods and heatwaves will now be the best scenario that one can hope for.
My resignation is my act of conscientious objection to the education status quo with a “green” twist, formulated on the assumption of an ever-growing economy on a physically finite planet. Science clearly shows us that the future our students are heading towards will be radically different from that which can be achieved by the incremental changes and technological solutions in which we are currently engaged.
In the current state of education, we are not preparing our students for success in their future, and by not admitting it we are failing them.
As a scientist and educator, I must speak the scientific truth, regardless of the personal, social or economic consequences. I will now endeavor to educate policy makers, politicians, voters and in general those who have the economic and political capacity to contribute to the transformative systemic changes that need to be made.
There is still time to lock in a future climate similar to the one the world experienced last year. The longer we delay, the more the future of our children and grandchildren becomes unrecognizable. The climate of our youth may be gone, and that’s a reason to cry – but not to give up.
Editor’s note: John Abbott College declined to comment on Heather Short’s criticisms of the education system and told CBC he had many initiatives linked to climate change and the reduction of its carbon footprint.
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