The teaching of climate change in schools has long been a hot – and sometimes controversial – topic among educationalists, teachers, parents and politicians. How and when it should be taught have sometimes run up against the fundamental question of should it even be taught.
Today comes the news that any specific mention of “climate change” has now been erased from the draft geography curriculum in England up to and including key stage 3 (all children aged up to 14). Such a move was trailed back in 2011 when Tim Oates, the government’s new curriculum adviser, said he wanted to see a move away from the teaching of scientific “issues” and instead a desire “to get back to the science in science”. In particular, Oates signalled that he wanted the national curriculum to be greatly stripped back and simplified, given that it was running at almost 500 pages in length.
As Juliette Jowit reports in her story today, it looks as if Oates has got his way:
The latest draft guidelines for children in key stages 1 to 3 have no mention of climate change under geography teaching and a single reference to how carbon dioxide produced by humans impacts on the climate in the chemistry section. There is also no reference to sustainable development, only to the “efficacy of recycling”, again as a chemistry subject.
Predictably, this has not gone down well in some quarters. Prof Sir David King, the former government’s science adviser, told the Guardian:
What you seem to have is a major political interference with the geography syllabus… If all of these aren’t issues for geography classes, then where should they be taught? It would be absurd if the issues around environmental pollution weren’t core to the curriculum. I think we would be abdicating our duty to future generations if we didn’t teach these things in the curriculum.
But organisations such as the Geographical Association, which represents more than 6,000 geography teachers, and the Royal Geographical Society, seemed to welcome the draft guidelines saying that it is better for a pupil to first gain a basic understanding of geography before then using such “building blocks” to develop an understating of climate change and sustainability as the pupil moved towards GCSEs and A-levels (aged 15-18).
Having written a book about climate change for children aged 8-12, I have some sympathy with this view. As I wrote in a feature for this paper in 2009 (upon the book’s publication), climate change is an almost uniquely challenging subject to teach children – both in terms of the complexity of its underlying science and its physical/societal/political impacts and implications. There is fierce debate – as indicated by the range of views in the article I wrote – about how old a child needs to be before they can start to absorb and understand these varied and inter-linked themes.
I agree with the view that climate change should largely be taught under the umbrella of geography (both human and physical geography). Yes, it reaches across many subjects – including, obviously, the physical sciences – but geography seems the most appropriate subject from which to “discuss” it as a topic. However, in my own view, key stage 3 is the earliest point at which pupils should begin to specifically address climate change in the classroom.
And, from what I can see, this is still possible under the new draft guidelines, given the intentionally loose wording (which starkly contrasts with the detailed, prescriptive wording of the previous version).
Let’s compare them. Here’s what the existing wording says for the geography curriculum in relation to climate change and – yes, that notoriously unsatisfactory term – “sustainability”. You will see that the term “climate change” isn’t even mentioned until key stage 3, but right from key stage 1 (5-7 year olds) there is the inclusion of generalised environmental concepts such as litter and “traffic pollution”. I have picked out the specific references below, but you can see the complete wording here (KS1; KS2 and KS3).
Each key stage begins with this general statement:
Teaching should ensure that ‘geographical enquiry and skills’ are used when developing ‘knowledge and understanding of places, patterns and processes’, and ‘environmental change and sustainable development’.
And here are some specific guidelines:
1. In undertaking geographical enquiry, pupils should be taught to:
c. express their own views about people, places and environments [for example, about litter in the school]
Knowledge and understanding of environmental change and sustainable development
5. Pupils should be taught to:
a. recognise changes in the environment [for example, traffic pollution in a street]
b. proved and sustained [for example, by restricting the number of cars].
Key Stage 2
Knowledge and understanding of environmental change and sustainable development
5. Pupils should be taught to:
a. recognise how people can improve the environment [for example, by reclaiming derelict land] or damage it [for example, by polluting a river], and how decisions about places and environments affect the future quality of people’s lives
b. recognise how and why people may seek to manage environments sustainably, and to identify opportunities for their own involvement [for example, taking part in a local conservation project].
Breadth of study
6. During the key stage, pupils should be taught the knowledge, skills and understanding through the study of two localities and three themes:
e. an environmental issue, caused by change in an environment [for example, increasing traffic congestion, hedgerow loss, drought], and attempts to manage the environment sustainably [for example, by improving public transport, creating a new nature reserve, reducing water use].
And I include this because I think it’s particularly important when teaching children about climate change…
Note for 2d – Cross reference to English
f. distinguish between fact and opinion [for example, by looking at the purpose of the text, the reliability of information]
Key Stage 3
1.6 Environmental interaction and sustainable development
a. Understanding that the physical and human dimensions of the environment are interrelated and together influence environmental change.
b. Exploring sustainable development and its impact on environmental interaction and climate change.
Environmental interaction and sustainable development: Understanding the dynamic interrelationship between the physical and human worlds involves appreciating the possible tensions between economic prosperity, social fairness (who gets what, where and why), and environmental quality (conserving resources and landscapes and preventing environmental damage). The interaction of these factors provides the basis for geographical study of the environment and understanding of sustainable development.
2.1 Geographical enquiry
Pupils should be able to:
c. identify bias, opinion and abuse of evidence in sources when investigating issues
Range and Content
The study of geography should include:
h. interactions between people and their environments, including causes and consequences of these interactions, and how to plan for and manage their future impact.
Interactions between people and their environments: This should include the investigation of climate change. Making links between people and their environments at different scales helps pupils understand interdependence (eg considering how their consumption of energy has a global impact on physical systems such as climate). Pupils should investigate different perspectives and values relating to these interactions, including sustainable development. They should also consider future implications of these interactions.
By comparison, the new draft guidelines (pdf) are far simpler. In fact, they only amount to four pages across key stages 1, 2 and 3.
Yes, it is correct that there are no specific references to climate change, but the wording is loose enough for any teacher or school to introduce climate change as a topic as early as they feel it necessary:
It begins with a “Purpose of study”:
A high-quality geography education should inspire in pupils a curiosity and fascination about the world and its people that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Teaching should equip pupils with knowledge about diverse places, people, resources and environments, together with a deep understanding of the Earth’s key physical and human processes. As pupils progress, their growing knowledge about the world helps them to deepen their understanding of the interaction between physical and human processes, and of the formation of landscapes and environments. Geographical knowledge provides the tools and approaches that explain how the Earth’s features at different scales are shaped, interconnected and change over time.
But by key stage 2, some teachers might interpret the document to mean that they can start to talk about concepts such as climate change:
Pupils should be taught to name and locate counties and cities of the United Kingdom, geographical regions and their identifying human and physical characteristics, including hills, mountains, cities, rivers, key topographical features and land-use patterns; and understand how some of these aspects have changed over time.
And by key stage 3, teachers have the licence to be exploring climate change in depth, if they so choose – even if, again, the term itself is not specified:
Pupils should be taught to: understand, through the use of detailed place-based exemplars at a variety of scales, the key processes in:
* physical geography relating to: glaciation, plate tectonics, rocks, soils, weathering, geological timescales, weather and climate, rivers and coasts
* human geography relating to: population, international development, economic activity in the primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary sectors, urbanisation, and the use of natural resources
* understand how human and physical processes interact to have an impact on and form distinctive landscapes
What this seems to largely come down to is the ideological differences between the present and former governments over whether education should be top down or bottom up. Should teachers be allowed to choose the topics they introduce in their classes, as long as they adhere to a broad “purpose of study”? Or should they be “forced” by central government to include certain topics?
This is not about climate change being “banned” from schools, as some might want to portray this. Just the same as it was equally false to say that, until now, children have been “brainwashed” by teachers about climate change. As I written before, there is simply no evidence of this having been the case.
I still feel confident that by key stage 3 – and certainly beyond – pupils in England will come away from school with a good understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, as well as a keenness to debate the various proposed policy and technological solutions.
- Climate change to be removed from national curriculum (davidstone500.wordpress.com)
- Newsbytes: Climate Scientists Turn Skeptical As Climate Predictions Fail (wattsupwiththat.com)
- European Union slashed from the National Curriculum (telegraph.co.uk)
- Climate change cut from national curriculum for children up to 14 (schoolsimprovement.net)
- Whither National Curriculum Assessment Without Levels? (giftedphoenix.wordpress.com)
- Climate Change to Become Core Part of Curriculum (sustainablebusiness.com)
- Unpopular level descriptions are going. But what will replace them? (lizmoorse.wordpress.com)
Sanitation concerns in post-quake Christchurch
Wendy Zukerman, Australasia reporter
In the New Zealand city of Christchurch authorities are scrambling to restore water supplies and sewage systems which were severely damaged by last week’s 6.3-magnitude earthquake.
(Image: Jamie Ball/Rex Features)
Isolated cases of measles and gastroenteritis have been reported. According to Humphrey the gastro cases were likely to have been water-borne and the result of people brushing their teeth with contaminated water – rather than spread through human contact.
But, a Canterbury District Health Board spokeswoman told the New Zealand Herald: “There is an underlying potential for there to be a measles outbreak. There’s a chance of an outbreak of gastro diseases.”
Many residents are living in camps, where the poor sanitation and cramped living conditions are perfect for disease outbreaks.
On Friday, Cowles Stadium welfare centre – which provided accommodation for Christchurch earthquake evacuees – was forced to close because its water and sewage services were not considered reliable.
Radio New Zealand reported that the Christchurch City Council was “worried about disease” at the stadium, and said it could not “afford an outbreak of diarrhoea.”
All citizens are being encouraged to boil their water before consuming it.
At 12.51 pm local time today – precisely one week from when the earthquake struck, burying as many as 200 people - the city stood silent for 2 minutes.
Mental health is seen as a growing concern in the city, too. A doctor from a nearby hospital that has been helping patients told the New Zealand Herald, “We had walking wounded coming in initially on Tuesday – people with cuts, minor injuries and things like that. We are starting to get more people with shock coming in and I expect that to increase.”
The tectonic forces that are shredding New Zealand
The week of 22 February the New Zealand city of Christchurch felt the force of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. The quake came just five months after an even larger one struck 40 kilometres west of Christchurch, near the town of Darfield. In fact New Zealand experiences around 14,000 tremors each year, although most are too small to be felt. They are a sign of the tectonic processes that are gradually shredding the country.
Why is New Zealand so prone to earthquakes?
Regions that lie close to a boundary between tectonic plates tend to feel more quakes than areas in the middle of a plate. New Zealand may have a total land area of just 27,000 square kilometres, but that area happens to coincide with the margin between the Pacific and Australian plates, leaving parts of the island very seismically active.
Which areas are most vulnerable?
Large areas of both North and South Islands have felt earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 5 within the past 200 years. This is because of New Zealand’s unique tectonic regime: despite its small size, the country feels the impact of three distinct regions of tectonic activity.
The relatively low-density continental crust of the North Island, which sits on the Australian plate, is forcing the dense oceanic crust on the Pacific plate beneath it in a process called subduction. This creates a so-called destructive plate margin that is nibbling away at the Pacific plate. Earthquakes are common where a subducting plate grinds against the underside of an overriding plate.
Something similar is occurring to the south-west of South Island. But here the sliver of continental crust lies on the Pacific plate, and it is the Australian plate that is being destroyed through subduction.
In between, the continental crust on the Pacific and Australian plates slide past one another on South Island, creating a conservative plate margin where crust is neither created nor destroyed. This area is still prone to earthquakes, most notably along the Alpine fault. Further away from these fault zones the ground is generally more quiescent. Christchurch is over 100 kilometres from the Alpine fault.
So what caused the Christchurch quake?
It was caused by a new fault – or, to be more precise, a previously unrecognised fault.
“The fault is likely to have existed previously – and possibly produced earthquakes before – but they have not ruptured recently, in a geological sense,” says John Townend at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The unrecognised fault appears to be an offshoot from the Alpine fault. Unfortunately for the residents of Christchurch, that offshoot passes very near South Island’s largest city.
Are more quakes on the fault likely?
Earthquake prediction is an inexact science, despite tantalising evidence thatearly warning systems may be possible in some cases. But some seismologists are cautiously optimistic.
“An earthquake of this magnitude does a good job of releasing stress,” says Gary Gibson, a seismologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Townend agrees: “My interpretation of what we are seeing near Christchurch is temporary, albeit harrowing, activity in what is generally a relatively low-seismicity part of the broad plate boundary.”
What’s the long-term prognosis for New Zealand?
Even if Christchurch dodges major seismic activity in the near future, tectonic forces will continue to act on New Zealand. Hamish Campbell at the research consultancy GNS Science in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, says it’s “very unlikely” that the newly recognised fault will have any serious effect on the country’s geography, but activity on the Alpine fault may well do so.
The rocks on either side of the Alpine fault are grinding past each other quickly – at around 30 millimetres per year. The southern part of South Island has moved at least 480 kilometres relative to the northern part within the past 25 million years. That rate of movement is “colossal”, says Campbell – and not far off the displacement seen on the world-famous San Andreas fault in California, which is itself a conservative plate margin.
Fast forward several million years and New Zealand will continue to twist and turn. The activity that is already shredding the country will ultimately see South Island “split in two along the Alpine boundary”, says Campbell. The town of Kaikoura would be at the northern tip of one island, with Greymouth at the southern tip of the other, he predicts.
The Alpine fault that runs along the mountainous spine of South Island marks the boundary between the Australian and Pacific plates. It now appears likely that the Christchurch quake resulted from a previously unknown fault extending directly eastward from the Alpine fault.
It first came to light last September when a stronger but less calamitous quake shook Darfield, 40 kilometres west of Christchurch. Seismologists believe the latest quake resulted from …
Today’s fatal earthquake near Christchurch in New Zealand confirms that a country already riddled with major fault lines has gained another one, say seismologists.
“Christchurch has never been identified as a major earthquake zone, because no one knew this fault ran beneath,” says Roger Musson, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.
New Zealand experiences thousands of earthquakes each year, because it lies on the boundary between the Pacific and the Australian tectonic plates. To the north-east, the Pacific plate is subducting beneath New Zealand’s North Island, and to the south-west, the Australian plate is subducting beneath the South Island. Between these two subduction zones lies theAlpine fault, running along the mountainous spine of the South Island.
It now appears likely that the Christchurch quake resulted from activity on a fault extending directly eastward from the Alpine fault that remained unknown until last year, says Musson.
The new fault first came to light last September when a stronger but less calamitous quakeshook Darfield, 40 kilometres west of Christchurch. Musson says the latest quake probably resulted from an eastward continuation of activity on the same fault. “It has probably not moved for tens of thousands of years, so lots of strain built up,” says Musson.
Christchurch was understandably unprepared for activity on a fault that is only now making its presence known. But two factors made today’s damage worse. The quake was just 5 kilometres down, limiting the amount of energy it dissipated before reaching Christchurch from its epicentre just 10 kilometres away. Also, the rock on either side of the fault accelerated almost three times as fast as in a typical quake, says Musson, so the shaking was extra violent – and significantly greater than the levels Christchurch’s structures have been designed to withstand
A series of floods have been affecting northeastern Australia, primarily in the state of Queensland and its capital city, Brisbane, since October 2010. The floods have forced the evacuation of thousands of people from towns and cities. At least 22 towns and over 200,000 people have been affected. Damage initially was estimated at around AU$1bn (£650m). This estimate was later revised up to AU$10-11bn.
Vast areas of Southern and Central Queensland, an area the size of Germany and France combined, were affected by the flood. About 300 roads were closed, including nine major highways. Coal railway lines were closed and numerous mine sites flooded. The floods have boosted fruit and vegetable prices.
The floods were a result of heavy precipitation caused by Tropical Cyclone Tasha that combined with a trough during the peak of a La Niña event. The 2010 La Niña weather pattern, which brings wetter conditions to eastern Australia, is the strongest since 1973. Isolated flooding started across parts of the state in early December. On 24 December a monsoonal trough crossed the coast from the Coral Sea, bringing torrential rain that fell in a broad swath from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Gold Coast. By 28 December the worst of the rain had passed. The conditions also led to a large influx of snakes, as well as some crocodiles.
While flooding has been widespread across Queensland, major flooding has mainly occurred in the three river basins.
- Fitzroy River basin, including the Dawson and Nogoa Rivers
- Burnett River basin
- Condamine River/Balonne River basin, part of the Murray-Darling basin.
A later flood event affected the Mary River basin
Fitzroy River basin
The flooding initially forced the evacuation of 1,000 people from Theodore and other towns, described as unprecedented by the acting chief officer of the Emergency Management Queensland. The military transported residents by helicopter to an evacuation centre at Moura.
Emerald was cut-off by road on 29 December as the Nogoa River rose. By the next day, the river surpassed the 2008 flood peak level of 15.36 m (50.4 ft). At the peak of the flooding, 80% of the town was flooded, the worst the town ever experienced. 1,200 Emerald residents registered as evacuees.
Rockhampton had nearly a week to prepare for an expected flood peak from the Fitzroy River, which courses through the centre of the city. The airport was closed on 1 January. A metal flood barrier was erected around the terminal to prevent flood-borne debris from causing damage to the structure. An evacuation centre was set up at the Central Queensland University. The Bruce Highway leading south out of Rockhampton was closed to traffic. The river peaked at 9.2 m just short the of the predicted 9.4 m maximum.
The Port of Gladstone reduced its export capacity because the coal stockpiles at the port were saturated and further coal deliveries could not be made by rail. The Goonyella railway line which services a number of coal mines in the Bowen Basin was closed for one week and shipments of grain were also delayed.
Burnett River basin
The swollen Burnett River at Gayndah, 350 kilometres (220 mi) north west of Brisbane.
The central Burnett towns of Gayndah and Mundubbera saw major flooding on 28–29 December. The Burnett River peaked at 18.25m at Mundubbera—the highest river height since 1942—inundating more than 20 houses. Downstream at Gayndah, the river peaked at 16.1m with floodwaters reaching two houses. Both towns were isolated for several days and there was major disruption to the potable water supply and local agricultural production.
Condamine/Balonne River basin
Flooding in Dalby was the worst since 1981. The town’s water purification system was flooded, resulting in water restrictions that have hampered clean-up efforts. 112,500 litres (24,700 imp gal; 29,700 US gal) of water were transported to the town of 14,000 residents. Warwick was isolated when all roads into the town were cut-off.
Floodwaters are passing downstream along the Balonne River and threaten the towns of Surat and St George. The river is expected to peak at 12.5m at Surat and 14m at St George. The New South Wales towns of Angledool, Goodooga and Weilmoringle are expected to be isolated when floodwaters from the Balonne reach the Culgoa and Bokhara Rivers.
Mary River basin
Heavy rain in the Mary River catchment on 8-9 January 2011 lead to flooding at Maryborough and Gympie. The Mary River at Maryborough was expected to initially peak at 8.5m at midday 9 January with some houses and businesses inundated. A second peak is expected to arrive from rain falling upstream later that day. At Gympie, the Mary River is expected to peak at 16m, possibly increasing to 17m—over the major flood level—if rain continues to fall.
Toowoomba flash flood
In the Darling Downs, the city of Toowoomba was hit by flash flooding after more then 160 millimetres (6.3 in) of rain fell in 36 hours to 10 January 2011; this event caused four deaths in a matter of hours.
Nearby, Gatton saw voluntary evacuations as the Lockyer Creek rose to a record height of 18.92m, exceeding the previous record set in the 1893 Queensland floods. The surge passed through the Lockyer Valley town of Withcott, where the force of the water pushed cars into shops and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people. The scene was described by an onlooker as “like Cyclone Tracy has gone through it … If you dropped an atom bomb on it, you couldn’t tell the difference.” Grantham was also hit hard by the flooding rains. Houses were left crumpled by what Premier of Queensland Anna Bligh described as an “inland tsunami“. Nine people were confirmed dead, with the toll expected to double that figure, and 66 were missing.
In South East Queensland, the Wivenhoe Dam filled to a level equivalent to 122% of its supply capacity, leading operators to open all five flood gates on 29 December. Brisbane experienced its wettest December since 1859.
On 11 January 2011 at around 2:30 pm EST, the Brisbane River broke its banks leading to evacuations in the Brisbane CBD and the suburbs of Fortitude Valley and West End. An evacuation centre was established for flood-affected residents at the RNA Showgrounds in Bowen Hills.
The editorial of Church of England newspaper
‘It is savage irony that Haiti was the richest agrarian economy for her Spanish and French slave masters, producing immense wealth from its sugar plantations as well as goldmines. Haiti is indeed a stain on the conscience of the West.’
Haiti’s earthquake have put the country into the headlines, of course for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. But it has raised many questions and issues that needed to be asked; more than the answers, our discussions, deliberations and ethical responses are what are important.
Haiti seems to be one of those countries, like many other Carribean and Pacific islands, refereed in case studies of primary or high school geography. Though I am a geographer, I knew near-t0-nothing about Haiti. Before, of course, the earthquake made it front page news. Are we, using this tragedy, to understand from the past and learn to better assist in helping the Haitians themsleves shape their own future.
A quick check regarding background:
‘The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation.’ http://geography.about.com/library/cia/blchaiti.htm
So what now? What should be done?
* The world, esp the US and the West needs to assist Haiti – with aid food, water, medicines now; with medium and long term support of the economic and political structures.
* Tourism is vital for the island - see Simon Calder’s aricle below.
* The west needs to work with the future Haiti government, to help it to realise its own, very real potential.
Simon Calder In The Independent this week
Guilt makes awkward baggage for the holidaymaker. From self-reproach about the impact on the planet of a flight to the sunshine, to the twinge of remorse about supporting human rights abuses by visiting China, many of us would prefer to leave our consciences at home. But in a part of the world that has fallen victim to a humanitarian disaster, should the very notion of tourism be abhorrent? One in five respondents to an online poll conducted yesterday by CruiseCritic appears to think so. They described the return to Haiti’s Labadee Beach of cruise ships as “in poor taste”.
Now, from an ethical perspective you can criticise cruise lines for reducing tourism to a caricature. A vessel the size of a housing estate drifts around the Caribbean, her kitchens serving up absurd quantities of food in a region where many go hungry. She destabilises communities by delivering thousands of visitors at the start of the day then scooping them up before dark, before embarking on the next futile arc in the never-ending circle of indulgence.