Students asking about climate change? Here are some answers.

17-04-2019 09:04

TODAY 1.4 million students demonstrated in 2,233 towns and cities in 128 countries taking part in today’s Climate Strike

School children protesting with banners in Melbourne

Melbourne School Strike for Climate Action 2
Credit: Julian Meehan Licence

“From small actions, like that of students who went on strike for the first time across India, to large demonstrations in the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Sweden and Australia, the strike for climate action spread across more than 2,000 events.

“The co-ordinated strikes were organised via social media by volunteers in the countries under the banner of Fridays for Future.” Read more about these unprecidented acts of frustration by young people here and here

UPDATE: As a result of the school strike, António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, is bringing world leaders together at a climate action summit later this year to demand concrete plans to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.” Read more.


Teachers and parents, if you have children or young people asking about climate change, here are some answers.

Chris Smith is a research fellow in Physical Climate Change at the University of Leeds. He has focused on three big questions we often get asked:

  • How long is the planet going to last? I heard it was 12 years…
  • What would be the most effective policy to end climate change?
  • What’s the single best thing I could do in my life to help the climate? – be warned he lets you think it is ok to focus on indivdual action.

Read his clear answers with links to further explanation here: Climate change: a climate scientist answers questions from teenagers

Compare this with the more nuanced An Audacious Toolkit: Actions Against Climate Breakdown (Part 3: I is for Individual)

The big question: Why didn’t the older generation do anything to stop climate change?

George Monbiot explains this and what we must do now to support the youth movement.

Scientific evidence

Here’s why there are mass protests across the world: Graphs and Facts collected to explain protests.

For the more scientifically curious students looking for credible evidence, try this site recommended to me by Will Lambert.  “The polar portal website in particular is very good website for getting daily recorded updates direct from the monitoring stations.”
“In particular to note the overall accumulated Ice mass loss and gain from Greenland shown here, along with prior year averages for comparison.”


Sustainable Thinking from BBC Ideas one of 16 brilliant video stories, each under 5 mins, that the BBC have just created to explain the current situation and take it seriously.

The Story of Stuff “The Story of Stuff Project’s journey began with a 20-minute online movie about the way we make, use and throw away all the Stuff in our lives.” Free videos a free quiz, plus lesson plans and materials you can buy too.

What should you focus on? World Economic Forum explains: Why plastic pollution shouldn’t distract from other environmental challenges

How much would individual action help?

NASA Resources for Educators 

WWF Resources

A multimedia project I wrote that you could adapt for your students: Climate Emergency

Interactive Whiteboard Resource Very clear Twitter thread by Ben See @ClimateBen a Literature Teacher informing pupils of the scientific reality of the Ecological Catastrophe & urging them to act. See also @urgenceclimatiq & @ClimateHound  See

Take it further: If you have accepted that dramatic changes to society are inevitable, you will be interested in Deep Adaptation  Jem Bendell’s blog

Based in Derby? Why not check out the latest events organised by Derby Climate Coalition.


What is the school/college/university doing about it?

WATCH: Five tips to help your school become more sustainable (Tes Schools Awards 2018 sustainable school of the year)

25 interesting ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of your workplace

The climate is changing; colleges and universities must adapt

How US Campuses & Students Are Helping to Save the Planet

Mapped: The UK Universities that have Pledged to Divest from Fossil Fuels

What about you?

It is immediate and obvious to many young people.  Another question is what are you, my teacher, doing about it?

Before reading on, please consider the value or danger of focusing on the indivdual at all.  Is it a distraction? Read An Audacious Toolkit: Actions Against Climate Breakdown (Part 3: I is for Individual)

Here’s my story:

28 years ago, I was 15 when I learned about global warming and I thought we’d have this sorted by now. I refused to learn to drive when I was 17. I learned to drive ten years later when I thought it was irresponsible with children to have only one driver.

In 2009, I screened the film ‘The Age of Stupid’ and had Sustrans manager and climate campaigner, Dave Clasby as guest speaker.  I showed it in two primary schools to parents and teachers and to staff at Derby College. Update from The Guardian: “Ten years after climate movie The Age of Stupid had its green-carpet, solar-powered premiere, we follow its director as she revisits people and places from the film and asks: are we still heading for the catastrophic future it depicted?” Watch this short film about this here.

Apart from cycling, for two years my wife and I have had a hybrid car and that has let us enjoy driving again. Well done if you have cut out dairy and meat.
I learnt from The Age of Stupid that it makes you feel loads better when you are doing something about it. Reducing plastic is very popular now but we need to focus on reducing CO2 emissions. HOWEVER nothing we do as individuals compares with the 85-85% of CO2 emissions produced by large corporations.  Read on…  The most valuable thing is to put pressure on goverments to put controls on production and transform our way of life. Here’s just seven things that might make you feel better:

  1. It’s great if you travel via public transport. Tell others to stop flying and don’t fly yourself. I haven’t since 2006. 5 of us went to Antibes in the south of France last year by train. It was bliss.
  2. Turn your heating down a degree or two and wear another layer. If this makes you wince, adapt you house to make it cosier and shut doors. See George Monbiot’s article in point 4 below.
  3. Turn off lights and appliances and things left on standby. More here:
  4. Reduce your carbon footprint. Grow your own. Shop at an ethical wholefoods shop. Research where your stuff comes from. George Monbiot who was in The Age of Stupid gives you 15 ways here: More on reducing carbon footprint.
  5. If you haven’t already, switch your electricity and gas supplier to a company like Octopus or Ecotricity who will turn you bills into windmills!
  6. Campaign. Take advice from a charity: or
  7. More to ethical banking and take your savings and ask your employer to divest from fossil fuel investments. ‘Derby city councillors give the lead and call on pension fund to divest from fossil fuels’:


One last thing that’s really quick and costs you nothing

Scientists make it clear – we’re facing a climate emergency

“On 8th October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a vital report on the state of climate science. They warned that if the planet warmed by 1.5C there would be some devastating consequences, such as the loss of most coral reefs, and increased extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods. Yet the consequences of allowing 2C warming would be truly catastrophic. Given that the planet is currently heading for 3-4C warming, keeping to 1.5C requires a radical shift across energy, land, industrial, urban and other systems to reduce emissions, unprecedented in history for its speed.” Read more here.

If, like me, you are frustrated by lack of progress in prevent mass extinction in government circles and would like to take the focus away from the current obsession and actually do something to limit catastrophic climate change, then you may be interested in a petition to get local government to make commitments that will limit CO2 emissions locally and put pressure on national leaders.

At the time of writing, in the UK alone, 38 councils (including 1 authority, London), representing 17,698,328 persons have already declared a climate emergency and I would like Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council to do the same.  If you agree, a petition has just started, with more information here