From classrooms to the corridors of Government, campaigners believe that a lack of climate education is failing our Earth, reports Sophia Alexandra Hall

In the early April sunshine of Downtown LA, respected NASA climate scientist Dr Peter Kalmus was arrested and charged with trespassing after he chained himself to the JP Morgan Chase building. 

Dr Kalmus was one of more than 1,000 scientists who engaged in civil disobedience this month, as part of a “loose-knit international group” called Scientist Rebellion.

The movement, he told Byline Times, was forged in a shared feeling of desperation within the scientific community “by the inaction of world leaders in the face of our overwhelming evidence”.

“We feel compelled to speak in the strong language of civil disobedience,” Dr Kalmus said. “To wake up the world and create social transformation, for the sake of all life on Earth”.

A video of him speaking outside the bank has since gone viral on TikTok.

“We chose JPMorgan Chase because, out of all the banks in the world, it does the most to fund fossil fuel infrastructure,” he added. “This means it does the most to fund the destruction of our planet.”

Dr Kalmus is an established scientist with world-leading knowledge on the climate emergency. But he believes that if we are to create a better future for our planet, more must be done to educate young people – starting in schools. While his teenage sons learn about Earth science and climate science in the classroom, he argues that this is “not nearly enough”.

“Education needs to do more than just teach climate science,” Dr Kalmus told Byline Times. “It also has to teach the history of the lies from the fossil fuel industry, as well as real solutions.

“My sons don’t learn about the history of climate denial and how the fossil fuel industry very deliberately worked to misinform the public, bribe politicians, and prevent action. This is extremely important to teach. We can’t fix our democracy and corporations if people don’t even learn that they are broken.”

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5,500 miles away in London, 15-year-old student and Youth Parliament member Ellie Whitwam agrees that schools must do more to educate people about the climate emergency. Her initial exposure to the climate crisis came four years ago – but via TV, not a teacher. 

“It was actually because of a David Attenborough programme,” she said. “Afterwards I found out some more details in the news and on social media.”

Ellie is concerned that young people are not getting taught about the climate crisis in schools and are instead forced to discover information for themselves – meaning that only those with an existing interest will know what’s going on in the world around them.

“It’s worrying that I had to teach myself about the climate crisis in Year 7 when many others might not have chosen to do so,” she told Byline Times. “I couldn’t believe that some people weren’t being taught about something that was already impacting us everyday.”

She said that, although the climate crisis was occasionally mentioned in assemblies or geography lessons, most of the information she learned was from media she chose to consume outside of school. 

This is despite the fact that environmental issues are something young people care about. Natural England found that 78% of 8-15 year olds agreed that looking after the environment was important to them, and 81% of those surveyed said that they wanted to do more to look after the environment.


Understanding the Science

Dr Peter Kalmus’ protest took place two days after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group Three report.

The report was clear that all new fossil fuel builds must now end, and that businesses and governments must immediately begin to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Kalmus said that the problem is that “world leaders are doing the opposite – they are increasing fossil fuels”.

“This is why over a thousand scientists around the world, including us, decided to take action like this,” he told this newspaper. “We are literally fighting to protect life on Earth and humanity’s collective future. It sounds dramatic to phrase it like that, but it’s accurate.”

In response to the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels”.

As the report was published, a second climate protest continued in London, where software engineer Angus Rose went on hunger strike outside Westminster.

His demand focused on better education – starting with MPs and then the wider public. He committed to strike until the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, Greg Hands, organised a briefing for MPs and the Cabinet so that they could better understand the science behind the climate emergency.

His protest was backed by more than 75 scientists – including former Government Chief Scientific Advisor Sir David King. After 37 days without food, Rose’ demands were finally met. 

He recognises the power of education to change politicians’ and the public’s minds when it comes to the climate emergency.

“We know from a Freedom of Information request that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a briefing by the UK’s current Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on 20 January 2020,” Rose told Byline Times. “This led to a radical improvement in Johnson’s understanding of climate change. He even called it his ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.”

Rose wanted to replicate this experience and ensure that every MP could have their own ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.

“A lot of decision-makers have no background in science, so important reports sometimes end up as a pile of papers on a desk, and decision makers may choose to pick up and read those papers or not,” Rose said. “What we need them to do is study those papers and really try to understand how to analyse the UK.”

That goes for the public too. Rose has requested that the briefings be broadcast for everyone to see.

As Dr Kalmus and Ellie Whitwam argue, public education can’t start early enough.

The UK’s Department for Education has now approved plans to introduce a GCSE in Natural History in 2025 which will enable students to develop a “rich understanding of the natural world”.

For Ellie, this is a step in the right direction – but is clear that one optional GCSE subject is not accessible to everyone and that more needs to be done.

“It cannot stop there,” she said. “The education system must be rapidly reformed to put the climate crisis at the forefront of every curriculum. 

“The climate crisis isn’t a singular separate issue, it is something which will affect everything and everyone, worsening issues like misogyny, racism, classism and poverty. If we bring the next generation up with an awareness of the climate crisis issues affecting our planet, the people leading our country in the future will have the tools to put the climate at the forefront of policies. School is an incredible vehicle for change and we must use it.”

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