Are schools failing the next generation over global warming? My plan to help!

Human Tree

Philip Bell is a history teacher and Teach First participant at Alec Reed Academy in the London Borough of Ealing. He coordinates Green Schools Project work in his school and is starting a network for environmental education. Read why in this guest blog.

Why we need to environmentalise the curricula across subjects

Global warming is probably the most threatening issue we face, and one of the most difficult to overcome. It is ‘uniquely long-term, uniquely global and uniquely irreversible’. This makes the necessary change at a governmental and private sector level harder to achieve. However, schools are a sector that could more easily mobilise large numbers of people to take action on climate change.

If a civilisation-threatening asteroid were about to hit the earth, would we not be encouraging students to do everything in their power to prevent it? Would we not be preparing students with skills to understand and deal with the eventuality? Global Warming is that asteroid, except there is more concrete action students can take to prevent it, and more complex skills are needed to understand it.

Research suggests that education is one of the most important steps we must take to adapt to global warming. The researchers note that it may be more effective to give money from the 2020 Green Climate Fund ‘to educators rather than engineers’. The fact that global warming is only on the syllabus for two subjects (Science and Geography), then, is disproportionate to its importance for students’ later life. William Ruckelshaus, first chief of the US Environmental Protection Agency, stated a widely-held view when he said that Using one discipline to address the environment isn’t going to work. You have to use them all’ As educators we need to put Global Warming into its full interdisciplinary context through diverse curricula (English, History, Citizenship, IT, Geography, Art etc. and science) so that it can be felt.

Students need skills to contribute to the Green Economy, they need to develop language and concepts to understand and adapt to this dangerous age of environmental destruction. They deserve to be ‘environmentally literate’ so that they can truly understand the ethical choices they are making in their everyday lives. It is clear that UK schools are drastically failing to prepare children for the future.

In the long-term we want students to have the chance to recognise the full effects of environmental issues through reading poetry about Global Warming, for example, or learning about the significance of CO2 generated by the invention of the steam engine in History, or recognising the infinite impact of overfishing in Business Studies. This belief has led us to start a Network for Environmental Education. It will be a group of teachers supporting one another in adapting existing topics to allow students to reflect on environmental issues, create some resources for their specific subject areas or age group if they can, test methods for integrating environmental education into individual schools, discuss environmental education pedagogy, and share ideas. Undoubtedly, effective environmental education happens in some schools and departments. We want to build on that.

Call to action- I need you…

If you are interested in being involved in the Network, or you want more information, please email We are all stretched for time and you can contribute to the capacity that you are able. If you would like to be part of the network in the future, but not at the moment, please also get in touch. We want Secondary teachers from all different subjects, Primary teachers and Early Years teachers. We think environmental education should be all-through, interdisciplinary and empowering.

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