By Mary Chabrel, Green Party member.
Thirty years ago this month, I finished my GCSEs, Geography being one of them. I was already a conservation volunteer in the Colne Valley and in the lower sixth I founded ‘Help Earth Live Peacefully’, a still applicable maxim I think! The group collected cans in separate bins, squashed them in the woodwork rooms and sold them to an aluminium merchant. These days schools don’t have can machines, and the recycling is provided through identified commercial waste bins installed by the contractors. However, I am still the person who distributes labels for in-class recycling bins at the beginning of each academic year. The thing about being an environmental campaigner is that the problems are so vast and the chance to do things differently seems so ‘effortful’, that it can be hard to carve out a role in which you can sense that you are making a meaningful difference.
As a teacher, I am used to the idea that “We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.” But – 30 years!!?? And, of course, when I joined Friends of the Earth in the 1990s, they were 20 years old already..... The ‘environmental movement’ had started with organisations that we recognise today as being the ‘movement’ in the 1970s. So, how is it that the awareness has been raised over these years but society has not embraced longer-term solutions and systemic change? Partly because (to quote a 14 year old I taught once), “oh, but that’s effortttttt”! The limits we put upon ourselves: to limit our own imagination to do things differently, to valuing resources differently, to appreciating people differently; but also the environmental movement contains an ‘inconvenient truth’. As Al Gore’s documentary was entitled, based on the scientific message that he spread about climate change, near and far in 2006. We live ON a finite world, we live IN a finite world. Al Gore was so concerned that the world didn’t realise this, he produced another film, ‘An inconvenient sequel: truth to power’! The day the Paris Agreement was signed, he looked so relieved and joyous, yet of course, the work continues.
So, yes, we are prophets, speaking truth unto power, but we are now also agents of change as the scientific reality becomes part of wider vocabulary. For example, Terminal 5 was built at Heathrow Airport, but the decision to build the third runway was ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal, on 27th February this year, because ‘it did not take climate commitments into account’. What joy, what victory, what reward for the hard work of campaigners across West London, some of whom I know have been campaigning on this issue, across those 30 years.
Of course, we still have work to do. The environmental crisis is also a crisis of power and oppression and will impact those the most who have contributed the least to the cause of climate change, and this encompasses different races, ethnic backgrounds and levels of food security to varying degrees. Until we address issues on inequality across the globe we cannot truly tackle environmental breakdown. As a teacher, I am frequently in awe of my students' ability to imagine a better future, understanding that we are all connected and must work together to achieve our common goals.