Our students came together in March to support School Strike 4 Climate

School Strike 4 Climate

Last week three of my senior students came and saw me about today’s ‘School Strike 4 Climate’ wanting to work with the College to enable those students who wished to attend the rally, to do so. I applaud this wonderfully mature approach.

Previously we have discussed whether holding a rally is the most productive way to get those people in positions of authority who have the capacity to affect change, to do so. On this point, I am not so sure. Students skipping school to protest in the streets has the potential to muddy the waters, create negative sentiment in the community and lose the point of the students’ actions. This is why we held an in-school protest assembly at the Penquite campus earlier this year. We are a school, we educate so that students can understand the issue from a number of perspectives. Our students need to know not only what the Greenhouse Effect is but why life on earth depends on it, they need to know what causes it and why a rise in CO2 levels of 120 parts per million (ppm), from 280 ppm to 400 ppm, is so significant. Why has this had such a dramatic effect on global temperatures? In understanding the issue, our students can make informed decisions – isn’t that an important element of what education is about?

As the three students pointed out, this is something that is incredibly important to them and their generation. With advances in medicine, it’s not unfeasible to think that many of our students will be on this earth to welcome in the 22nd Century. Consequently, they have a lifetime to live through the impact of climate change. And yes, there are Climate Change Sceptics out there who have their opinion and rather than rely on the findings of expert independent scientists, such as those on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), they confidently promote their own rhetoric and deny that human activities are having any discernible impact on climate. By the way, the finding of the IPCC is that ‘human-made effects are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century (SPM 1.2, p4)’; ‘extremely likely’ equates to 90 – 95% confidence. Everyone has their opinion, but at the end of the day, they are just that, opinions.

As our conversation continued I asked the students, “What of those students who will want to attend the rally but don’t use the recycling bins we have available? Aren’t they being hypocritical?” Their answer – attending the rally could inspire them to take this issue more seriously and so have a positive impact in the future. As the meeting progressed my thinking ventured beyond the issue of the rally. We educate our young people to think critically, to be courageous and make a stand for what they believe is right, to live out the Values of the College in the face of potential criticism and not sit back and be a bystander when a perceived wrong is occurring, to not be afraid to lead. My students were doing all these things and so how could I criticise them for the strength of their convictions?

In addition to my students’ urgings, I recognise that being a Round Square school places a responsibility on us to uphold the IDEALS; primarily in this case Leadership, Environmental Stewardship and Internationalism. Even the Uniting Church has voiced its support for the rally and urged members to participate in the action on 20 September.

So do I think students should attend the rally? Ultimately, what I think doesn’t matter because the Education Act doesn’t allow me to approve their absence from school. What I will say is that as the Principal of Scotch Oakburn College, I respect all those who have made an informed decision on this matter and am proud that we have students who show the sort of leadership that we encourage and stand up for what they believe is a vitally important issue for their future.

Andy Müller