There is no more profound duty than that of each generation to educate its children. It is through the dissemination of knowledge that human societies progress. Human’s are incredible. We are capable of solving almost any problem, no matter how vast. But we can only do so if we know about it.
If you are 13 today, you could well live until the year 2100. Your lifetime will be shaped by vast changes. Some will be wonderful. Some will be terrifying. Some will be predictable. Some will be a shock.
There is no more important duty than to equip this generation for the changing world they will live in. Their capacity to survive in that future, to thrive in it, and, together, to shape it, will be hugely impacted by the tools we give them.
And one change we know that this generation will have to live through is that in our climate. Whatever success we have in restricting future emissions, those already in the atmosphere have committed us to vast, bewildering shocks to our climate systems. No generation in human history has had to face a this type of shift. Political systems come and go, leaving improvement or devastation in their wake. Technology leaps forward at an astonishing rate. Sometimes, wars lay waste to lives.
But as, all across the planet, the rains stop coming, the deserts spread, the seas rise, the hurricanes hit new coasts and the floods hit new rivers, this is a new type of challenge. And people need to figure out how to stop these problems getting worse.
It is in this context that Michael Gove has announced that he is axing climate change from the compulsory school curriculum – that it won’t be studied until optional GCSEs kick in. In what the former chief scientific adviser to the government, David King, suspects is “a major political interference with the geography syllabus”, the impact that greenhouse gas emissions are having on our climate does not appear in the newly published geography syllabus.
We shouldn’t, though, be surprised.
This government has a clear ideological commitment to enriching the rich and empowering the powerful. For a while, they also claimed that they were the greenest government ever. Now, they have realised that these two things are in no way compatible.
You can preserve a system run by the rich and powerful for the short term profit of the rich and powerful. Or you can protect the long term – or even medium term – future for everyone else.
To secure new profits, capitalism must always have a new frontier. Stopping climate change means placing a barrier in front of those frontiers. It means not digging up Northern Canada to burn the tar in its soil. It means leaving the coal in the earth, it means refusing to frack for new gas. Capitalism abhors a barrier.
And so the right has realised that they can’t at the same time protect their system and protect the planet. In this context, they had a choice. They could abandon their ideology, or they could abandon the facts. And, as they have always done, they chose to abandon the facts.
This is nothing new. Cameron’s government is the successor organisation to George W Bush’s White House. Their ideology is from the same books. And one clear strand of their ideology is what commentators have come to call ‘capitalist realism’. This was best expressed to Ron Suskind of the New York Times by an un-named senior advisor to the Dubbya White House. As Suskind explains:
“In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
“The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
It was summarised, perhaps more pithily, by the satirist Stephen Colbert, summing up the ideology of Bush’s White House:
“Reality has a well known liberal bias”.
It seems that the likes of Michael Gove are shifting to this attitude. They seem increasingly to believe that they are the masters of the universe, that they control the facts, they shape the world. If science contradicts those facts, then they can ignore that science, they can purge it from the curriculum and displace it from human knowledge.
The facts about climate change are becoming a barrier to capitalism. And capitalism abhors a barrier.
People & Planet have launched an e-action where you can write to Michael Gove and ask him to return climate change to the school curriculum.