What 30 kids in France can teach Mr Gove

The UK Government has proposed that 11 year olds should not be taught much about climate change. This week I gave a one-hour talk introducing climate change to my son’s class at his school near Geneva, partly as a way to give something back to the community but also out of curiosity about what 11-year old know about the subject. I was surprised by their level of knowledge and concern.


Image: DFID, Flickr

According to the Guardian, “the draft curriculum for geography does not contain references to climate change, but a section called “Earth science” in the chemistry syllabus says 11- to 14-year-olds should be taught about “the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate”” My one hour with the kids told me that this will not go far enough in meeting our children’s educational needs.

I started by asking the 30 boys and girls what they thought climate change was.  Half the hands in the room shot up. The answers included the following:

“It is when the earth gets hotter

The earth is like a greenhouse

Gases are trapping heat in the air”

Not a bad start. I presented a couple of slides showing the link between our lifestyles (eating, traveling, heating homes) and climate change. I explained how the greenhouse effect works, As soon as I paused after a slide, a handful of children would raise their hands. Over the course of an hour, I must have answered 40 questions, many of them getting to the heart of the issue.

The most striking question came from one girl who asked me directly “so how hot is it going to get”? I answered that on average it could be 4C. I said that this may not sound like alot here in cold Geneva, but it means catastrophic impacts for people living in the developing world who rely on their rivers for water, on the rain to grow crops. One boy afterwards told me his granny in India could no longer swim in her local river as it was dried up and that there were more mosquitos which “would spread disease”.

I asked the kids if they saw any change in the climate. The first answer was “there is less snow”, followed by “tornadoes in America” and ” a cold spring”. Tough questions rained in on me:

“what is the difference between the weather and the climate?

Does coal produce more emissions that wood

Why do the seasons happen?

After a short video explaining the carbon cycle (there is no longer a balance in carbon in what we emit and take back), we talked about solutions to climate change. The first child said “renewable energy”. Another said her Dad worked in “geothermal energy”. Another asked me how do solar panels work? I explained that here in France the lights were powered without greenhouse gas emissions, so nuclear energy was one technology we could use.

Finally, I asked the children how many of them thought it would be a good idea for children in the UK to learn about climate change. All the arms rose up in one go. Lots of beady eyes looked straight at me. I asked them why. Let me leave the final words to this little people with big brains who are going to have to deal with the mess we have left them and hope Mr Gove reinstates climate change onto the curriculum :

“so that the next generation are made conscious about climate change and how to decrease it”

“so we get into the habit now of changing so the climate is better”

For my blog on my second talk to the kids, see here.

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