Sustainability should be a core subject in all schools

April 14, 2022

You may not have heard of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), but it is a big deal.

The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - a United Nations body for assessing the science related to Climate Change. It works across nations, across governments. When they write a report, countries listen. They may not always act, but they listen. So the IPCC is kind of a big deal. And when the IPCC releases a major matters.

The recent IPCC report (IPCC Sixth Assessment Report ) is a huge piece of research that discusses the effect that human activity is having on the planet. It goes into some detail about what will happen under certain scenarios – if we don't slow down temperature increases, reduce carbon emissions, and so on. It is potentially quite hard reading, because it is so clear and unambiguous in its findings:

If we don't act decisively, now, then the future looks grim. Massive climate change, whole populations displaced, mass extinction events for animal species – general collapse of the planetary ecosystem.

However, if we look closely, the message is actually far more positive. It is NOT too late. We CAN turn this around. We just need the will. If society understands the pressures, the timings and the potential outcomes, it can make more informed decisions around climate change and how to address it. And address it we must, for it poses an existential threat to all life on the planet.

Considering how critically important climate change is, and how critical it is to understand the causes, it would be reasonable to suggest that knowing how to live sustainably is a vital life skill all people should possess. Like all life skills, it doesn't just happen – it needs to be taught. This can (and should) start at home from an early age, of course. But it also needs to be reinforced in schools at a systemic and formal level. Sustainability should therefore be taught as a core subject in all schools, starting at primary level.

Sustainability is considered a Cross Curriculum Priority in Australian schools, meaning it should be covered through other core subjects. This is a reflection of the importance of sustainability and is to be recognised and celebrated. But policy change alone is not enough to affect change. Having done a significant amount of research in the space, a few things became clear:



The need for humans to protect our environment is real. In nearly all societies, for almost all of history,  humans have respected and worshipped the natural world. Somehow, we lost that respect and began to see the planet as resource. As ours to do with what we want.  

Taking steps now to safeguard a viable future on the planet is critical, as the IPCC report states clearly. Systemic, global-level change is required. We need to shift our priorities from the consumption of resources and the accumulation of wealth (wealth is the primary metric of success currently), to a more sustainable set of values.  

This change starts with education.

We need to understand the problem, and then we need to understand the solutions. And we need for young people to understand too – their generation will be critical in the move to a more sustainable economy and society. They are the CEOs, politicians and leaders of tomorrow. We must prepare them now for a future that they will help decide. Developing a generation that is environmentally aware, engaged, and active should be an urgent priority for us all, and so teaching them sustainability should also be an urgent priority.

Jon Owen
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