The Wall between Education and Climate Change

A sketch of what “The Writings on the Wall” will look like by Amélie Zimmermann, March 2021

By Akvilė Selevičiūtė and Augustė Sturlytė 

Frustrated by what they see as poor education on climate change, students in Brussels are taking part in an innovative art protest to stir a sense of urgency about the environmental crisis. 

The project, called “The Writings on the Wall”, is the brainchild of students at the European School of Brussels II (EEB2), who are hungry for systemic change. It was put on the 27th of March by the Climate Academy, a base for students to learn about climate change and act upon it.

“We are tired of this immense problem being postponed indefinitely,” says Amélie Zimmermann, a final year EEB2 student, who helped spark the project. “There is no time left and we need laws to be put in place to protect our future now.”

Amélie says the mural will represent “people like us, who will suffer the severe consequences of not taking action right now.” 

With the pandemic, protestors have had to adapt the ways they make their point. The artists hope their work will fire the public’s imagination and catch the media’s attention. The goal is to provide a visible warning about the looming danger. Science has warned us; now changes must be made.

 Art that demands action

“The Writings on the Wall” shows the faces of people who are going to be longest and worst affected by global heating, namely the young and especially the poor. More than 30 students at the EEB2 are helping to promote and paint the 30-metre long, 6-metre-high mural, so everyone at the school sees it.

But the ambition is to engage thousands. Indeed, other schools around Europe have committed to doing their own walls on the same principle.

The exhibit embodies what many scientists have long been saying — that we urgently need radical, systemic change. At the centre of the wall there is clear data and the call for an immediate 11% cut of emissions to meet the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.

The wall shows there are clear scientific red lines that cannot be crossed without triggering a collapse of the entire system. For example, it shows the world is on track to exhaust the carbon budget for 1.5°C in just 4 years, or that 3°C of warming will spell the end of the Amazon rainforest.  

Climate education needs to grow up 

Although the climate issue is longstanding, the students complain that education on the subject tends to be superficial.

They say teachers focus on “starting points” such as recycling, saving energy, avoiding animal products and lowering carbon footprints while avoiding discussion of more radical, systemic solutions to save the planet.

Primary school children can grasp simple environmental actions, but secondary school and university students should grapple with more complex problems, such as what it would take to give up fossil fuel dependence or how to bring our systems in line with the science.  

In his book “Plato Tackles Climate Change,” Matthew Pye, founder of the Climate Academy, wrote that “our education systems were conceived in the Industrial Revolution. It is time they were reborn to meet the demands of the 21st Century.”

Facing hard truths

The Climate Academy gives youth an opportunity to understand the depth of the crisis and the resources to transform civic spaces creatively and constructively.

The Climate Academy uses Cut11% — scientist-verified data that establish every country’s required annual emission reductions to avoid overshooting 1.5°C and 2°C — as a foundation to demand changes in the law. Cut11% offers a reliable measure of progress per capita, rejects future-based targets, doesn’t take into account negative emissions and is based on consumption. 

“It’s really good to see this level of scientific understanding and political integrity brought together to produce what is a very challenging but robust target that we all need to be using to reform our policies for the future,” says Professor Kevin Anderson. A world authority on climate change, he took the time to scrutinize the data and analysis of Cut11% and endorsed it in this video here.  

The core message of both Cut11% and “The Writings on the Wall” is that young people have the right to know the truth about their future.

The Climate Academy are currently putting together a series of short videos that illustrate how skewed our understanding of the climate crisis is – both because of education and because of the media. After hundreds of quick interviews in the streets and in schools many of the clichés that we have about climate change were observed. People are more likely to talk about recycling and waste than about system collapse, and they are more likely to talk about China as a polluter than about high consumptive lifestyles as the problem. Over the Easter holiday the students in the Academy will be editing and analysing the range of responses they got.

The Climate Academy hopes the idea of EEB2’s climate mural will spread and encourages you to consider doing a similar project in your own space. 

Media:

left: Amélie Zimmermann painting the mural in EEB2, March 25th, 2021.

A picture containing text, clipart
Description automatically generated Logo
Description automatically generated with low confidence A picture containing text, outdoor
Description automatically generated under: Students painting The Writings on the Wall in EEB2, March 28th, 2021.

People standing in front of a wall with graffiti
Description automatically generated with low confidence

A picture containing text, outdoor, person
Description automatically generated