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Climate Stories: Meet the Countdown to COP26 Group Part 2

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The national Trust u3a Countdown to COP26 group invited its members to tell their ‘climate stories’. Some were present at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021. Read part 1 of the group’s climate stories.

Ann (Machynlleth u3a, Wales) found that educating the young about climate change presents particular trials. She writes ‘I’ve worked in education about global and environmental issues for more than 30 years. My challenge is how much to discuss with children and young people about the seriousness of climate change and the other challenges facing us. We can’t leave young people feeling guilty or helpless. Research has found that primary school children felt better about these issues if they were given clear, accurate information and enabled to do something. One should never underestimate what young people can understand. I’ve often had to say “I don’t know” to 10-year-olds’ questions. Answering questions honestly can be difficult’.

“Some years ago, I was doing a session with a 6th form geography group who had asked the difficult questions, including “what do you really think is going to happen?” We’d had an interesting conversation about the scope of the challenges. At the end one of them said, “well, you might fail, but you’d feel better about it”. He probably never realised what an impact he had on me.

“There is also something about the way that you talk to people about climate change. If you present as positive with a sense of humour, then perhaps the people you are working with will not leave your workshop feeling depressed. One of the things I’ve been enjoying recently is running a game where 7–14-year-olds learn about how the greenhouse effect works, while laughing. One group even wanted to go on playing it in what was becoming heavy rain.”

A more domestic view comes from Eleanor (Whitecliffs Country u3a in Kent) writes ‘When I was a teenager, I horrified my parents by becoming vegetarian, after caring for the cows on a farm. I could not believe the conditions veal calves were kept in and I loved cows. I backed up my emotional response by logic: how much more efficient our food production would be if we were plant-based. My dad said it was just a fad and I would soon get over it. 40 years on a vegetarian life has suited me well.

“I know about food miles and try to buy local produce. I grow much of our food and at times have had an allotment. Ever since “Silent Spring” (Rachel Carson, 1962) I have been aware of pesticides and their impact on wildlife, but I am increasingly aware of the need to return to organic principles for our agriculture. I am finally paying more to buy organic. We home cook all our meals. But there have been different phases in my journey.

“A few years ago, my daughter Lucy became vegan, not for animal compassion reasons, but because of the overwhelming evidence that cutting meat production will help lower our carbon footprint. Lucy points out that recent documentaries have had an impact on the awareness of our population of how our lifestyles are damaging our planet.

“Lucy highlights the frustrations of inadequate labelling that means that we are not sure what the best choices are. Being vegan should bring down our carbon footprint, but eating grapes or asparagus flown in can be more carbon intense that eating fish caught in the UK or drinking British cow’s milk. I revise what I eat according to new evidence, finding a balance between what is good for our world and what I can manage.”

And finally, the challenges faced by those trying to ‘do something’: Eddie (from Ayr u3a) writes “My environment story started with being a Councillor, ended with becoming Green Community Activist of 2011. In between I encountered indifference, complacency, hostility even to the idea that we are all in mortal danger of extinction in a matter of decades. Starting with energy efficiency. Through a matter of couple of years I had distributed over 2,000 energy saving lightbulbs, attended most schools in the area of East Renfrewshire to talk on the environment and oversaw many local initiatives, set up an organisation, Go Greener, allowing us to collect over 1,000 emails, oversaw an orchard being planted, ran two well attended mass events , produced a short video on food waste, got recycling rates to be best in Scotland and still I thought that it was not enough, never enough.

“I hope that those youngsters, now adults, will have embraced the messages that were given out: that we need to change how we act, act now and never give up the job of protecting the only planet we ever had.”

Finally: the planet will survive – it is the natural world and humanity that are under threat.