Blueprint for Green Schools

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The author, Sophie Bathurst of Australia, won first place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. She answered the question "How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.

Tree protection zone in Bradleys Head, Sydney
   Photo © Sophie Bathurst

My vision for Australia is that of a nation where healthy people live in a healthy environment.  I believe that Australia's future social and economic prosperity as well as the livelihoods of our Pacific Island neighbours depend on our response to the climate challenge. An effective response demands the engagement of all sectors of society and involves both responsible adaptation to existing environmental problems as well as the mitigation of further climate change.

If we ignore the warnings, we will not only damage our precious ecosystems and lose our water resources but will also have to contend with disruption of services; decline in key industries such as agriculture, tourism and fisheries; and increased health problems for society’s most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and remote indigenous communities.

If we think long-term and embrace the challenge, however, climate change can present an opportunity for youth. It can contribute to the establishment of an energy sector based on renewable and clean fuels, the development of world-class research centres and the implementation of globally recognised education programs in sustainability.

Education lies at the core of an initiative that I proposed recently. I envision a series of new projects for primary schools that will be led by a 'Green Taskforce' composed mainly of unemployed youth. The projects are designed to build confidence and to equip young people with some of the skills required for permanent employment in environmental trades. At the same time, these projects will create a culture of ecological awareness and healthy living within primary schools and teach students to reduce their carbon footprint.

The project will be piloted in Sydney, where many parents are afraid of letting their small children walk to school alone. The Taskforce aims to provide ‘walking bus drivers’ within a structured and reliable program, so more children can enjoy the mental and physical benefits of walking to school while reducing their carbon footprint.  I hope that signs reading 'Walking Bus Stop' will be erected at stop-off locations and that their visual impact will encourage people of all ages to think twice about using their cars for short distances.

As consumers become more aware of climate change, industries and businesses are increasingly answerable for the environmental consequences of their actions. Cooperation with the Australian business community is therefore central to my vision. Participating schools will be given the opportunity to plant a vegetable patch in their grounds. Members of the taskforce that are eager to acquire business skills will focus on creating partnerships with businesses that pursue sustainability within their operations in order to acquire material and financial backing for this project. I hope that these vegetable patches will also be integrated into science and agriculture classes so that children will learn about the carbon emissions from long-distance transportation. A 'hands-on' experience with fresh seasonal produce will hopefully lead their families to make informed choices in the supermarket.

Education through partnership with local business is also the focus of my next project. I have noted that many saplings planted in my community on ‘National Tree Day’ do not survive as they are overrun by weeds. I propose that the Taskforce coordinates an ongoing maintenance program to prevent this. It will also create links with small businesses in the community to sponsor groups of trees. If the trees are still growing tall after a year, they will donate an environmental educational resource to the school. This will increase the number of native species, reinforce the idea of offsetting carbon emissions, and allow local business to show their commitment to sustainable living.

A Green Expo that showcases energy-saving products and green services will be held at one of the participating Sydney schools. Residents can acquire information about effective ways to tackle climate change in their homes and businesses. Several environmentally friendly 'check points' will also be available during the Expo, such as a station where car tyres can be inflated appropriately. The Expo will also allow students to publicly showcase their scientific, artistic and literary coursework developed through the initiative.

A celebration of community spirit is central to my final proposition. At a rewards ceremony, Taskforce members will receive formal acknowledgement of their participation. They might also receive a qualification in conservation and land management or horticulture. Representatives from businesses that supported the project will also receive acknowledgment on the website of the local council. Schools that have reduced their carbon footprint significantly will be awarded official green status. Finally, the school that has the smallest carbon footprint by the end of the project will be given the remaining money from the Expo. They will be encouraged to invest this in new energy-saving equipment.

In a country where individualism is highly valued, I believe that local initiatives such as these will foster a positive atmosphere of collective involvement which will benefit society at large. As the world contends with the current financial crisis, governments, industries and citizens alike may feel inclined to remove climate change from the top of their agendas. This would be misguided. I think it is very important to act now at every level.

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