I’ve been discovering the world of working in sustainability during my week of work experience with Grain, and I’ve concluded that getting young people involved in tackling the environmental and climate crises is critical for the future of sustainable development.
Older generations in community groups
Through my involvement in the environment locally in the Chilterns, I’ve come across a vast majority of older generations as part of community groups. Much of this may be down to having more available time after retirement, but I believe it’s also down to younger people having less interest and knowledge about our natural world. At the 2022-23 series of BBOWT (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust) talks, most people were a couple of generations older than me, and with an immense knowledge of nature and wildlife. Speaking for my peers at school, I’d say we have an appreciation for the natural world but a severe lack of basic knowledge about it, like species identification. To help me rectify this, I like to use the mobile app Seek to identify plants and animals, and Merlin which uses birdsong to identify birds, to help me become more familiar with the species in my local area. The demographic involved in in the Chiltern Society can be shown through the fact that around 76% of the volunteering sessions are during school or working hours, and when I went to the Wild Amersham wildflower survey training session at the Amersham Band site, I was again the only one of my generation.
Involvement in sustainability in education
In my year group at sixth form, I’d estimate around ten people (5%) want to go into sustainability related jobs, and only three of us studying biology (4%) are more interested in the plant and ecology side than the human biology side, although we’ve had success setting up an Eco Society.
The proposed new Natural History GCSE, set to launch in 2025 by the OCR exam board, is good news for environmental education. The government’s aim is that it will help students understand the natural world and their impact on it, and provide a clear pathway into green careers.
The government has also proposed a ‘National Nature Service’ which would support young people to transition away from relying on benefits into jobs in nature conservation and restoration, while helping the government achieve its 25-year environmental plan.
Global Citizenship Conference: encouragement of young people
In July, I went to a conference with groups from nine schools to learn about sustainable development including making plans for our school on the topic. There was a real emphasis on the fact that we’re at the halfway point for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (set in 2015, due in 2030) and we’re only on track to meet 15% of our targets (with only 8.3% of targets having made substantial progress and were on track in 2022, and 53% with little or no progress or deterioration according to the 2022 progress chart). One of the speakers put particular emphasis on the potentially overlooked Goal 17, ‘Partnership for the goals’, as the crux of the problem, where falling short is negatively impacting the progress of the other goals.
We were lucky enough to have a panel of senior sustainability professionals to field our questions. They were extremely encouraging of us using our areas of responsibility and influence in our schools to make change, and were enthusiastic about our role as future professionals working in sustainability, and even said that all jobs in future will touch on sustainability.
Image: A butterfly photographed by an Eco Society member on our school grounds while working on our pond project