by Laurence Myers
Sustainability & Service Learning Coordinator
International School of Kuala Lumpur
In just a few days the world's leaders are congregating in Paris - fresh off the recent terror attacks - to define a way forward. There is general optimism about how much headway has been made over the past few years are the politicians are finally recognizing the need for long-term commitments to curtail carbon emissions. As of the writing of this article, 179 countries have submitted their intended nationally determined commitments. This is supported by an ever increasing number of cities and businesses and universities that are, likewise, doing their part by looking into their supply chains, and considering a revamping of the way operate. There is an ever increasing number of inspirational stories regarding more and more initiatives and the climate movement feels like it is gaining momentum.
From a pure carbon emissions perspective international schools often do not (or cannot) determine the level of their emissions. As generators of university-bound populations, sometimes with a profit motive, schools have generally lagged behind from a pure operations perspective. Even if their curricula focus on skills for sustainable development the schools themselves are "behind the curve" so to speak, with regard to necessary change. Yet, even as scientists argue the exact value of the world's climate commitments on a national level, international schools have been focusing on the small, and admittedly positive, things that their students have done as examples on how sustainability has been embedded into their school culture or behaviors..
Perhaps, though, it's time for schools to have a heart-to-heart with themselves and to analyse, quantitatively, the true cost of their environmental operations. It's possible that the end results might astound their communities, or even challenge their very nature of being. But it would behoove those who take that step, to provide a systematic data collection, reporting and goal setting with regard to climate commitments. Often international schools are considered the light houses of their respective countries. Their students will become world and business leaders, doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. The price of educating them is high, as is, more often than not, the environmental cost of their education.
If COP 21 is revealing anything, it's that, in contrast to the top-down model of climate conferences of the past, the bottom-up and all around approach is catching on much better. Perhaps it's time international schools became more obvious parts of a necessary sustainable movement. As examples to their communities, as educators of the "next generation of leaders", as pioneers and authentic learning experiences, climate commitments from international schools would be an ideal next step to bridging the gap between educating world citizens and ensuring that the institutions themselves "walk the talk" toward a more sustainable future.
What would this look like? One option would be a movement, similar to the President's Climate Commitment in which university presidents in the United States have committed to climate related changes on their campuses. Wouldn't it be great to have an EARCOS, NESA, ECIS (etc.) commitment of the same sort? But in all fairness school administrators have their hands full with issues of education, staffing, curriculum and the like. So, perhaps better yet, would be a movement, by students for students (and schools and the wold at large) to the same end. That would be the ultimate bottom-up approach to climate commitment and certainly a way for students to address what is arguably the world's most pressing problem in a meaningful way that supports and informs the adult crowd toward making meaningful, necessary and bold decisions that pave the way for a truly bright future for the very students our schools are aiming to support.
Bottom-up. Student initiated. Authentic. Relevant. Is looks like good education all round!
The following is the script of a speech presented by Sonja English (Class of 2016) to the Global Action Program assembly on October 20, 2015. Is is shared here with her permission.
"In light of the expiration of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, they have released a new set of ambitions: the Sustainable Development Goals. In essence, they aspire to achieve a series of ambitious proposals by the year 2030. Here is a taste of what they have to offer: ending all poverty, everywhere, and with that an end to hunger and promotion of nutrition and sustainable agricultural practices. Another crucial goal, is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Most studies strongly support the view that giving women a voice in their communities fosters a higher and more lasting level of development. Consequently, the role of women and girls needs to be emphasized ,especially in poorer regions of the world. We need more projects like The Girl Effect, as seen in 2008, which directly funded education for girls in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, with great success. We need to tread lightly on cultural issues like female genital mutilation and child marriage that results in girls trying to avoid the process by breast ironing. Child marriage and FGM isn’t going to go away by the developed world simply lambasting these practices. Instead, we must promote alternate ways of celebrating womanhood that still preserve indigenous values. Amhef Health Africa has founded an Alternate Rite of Passage (ARP) that replaces FGM with life skills teaching, and a ceremony. Over 9000 girls and their families have opted into ARP in Nigeria and Kenya. The UN functions on respecting the cultural traditions of communities, yet at the same time identifying where sometimes these practices do more harm than good. We must be able to consider both sides of the coin, because it’s too easy to say that “the world needs fixing”. It’s harder to suggest the means of solution that protect cultural identities and values while promoting universal human rights. The SDGs are attempting to bridge this divide and attain a more humane and respectful development for all.
Consider another issue: the part of the world that lives in darkness. We often take for granted the ability to turn on air conditioning, running water, lights. Even in Malaysia, many orang asli tribes not far from KL still do not have electricity. Liter of Light and MIT have invented a solar powered plastic water bottle light that has been introduced to rural communities. These ventures have not been government sponsored, but rather NGOs and normal citizens have worked to bring light to communities in Brazil, the Philippines, and Malaysia. This is only the beginning. Access to electricity and safe shelter go hand-in-hand. The UN’s Sustainable Development goals are all interlinked, and with the achievement of one, we get a domino effect into another. With the majority of you embarking on GAP this week, keep these goals in mind because they’re supposed to be the foundation of the trip, and we often forget this.
Malaysia with all it’s beauty invariably has its own struggles to quell. Before we embark on new journeys, we first should tackle those closest to home. Hence, Malaysia week and a Malaysian Action Program is what we should pursue. Act local, think global."
This blog is currently being updated by Laurence Myers, K-12 Service Learning Coordinator at the American School of Dubai. We are hoping the blog becomes a compilation of posts from a variety of people in the region and around the world. Want to add something? Send it along!