What’s the beef?

Greta Thunberg, the student climate activist, is mid-Atlantic as I write this column. She’s at the start of her one-year sabbatical from school to bring the voice of young people to global gatherings of world leaders.

Greta inspired thousands of children and teenagers to attend school strikes on Fridays to protest against the devil-may-care approach to climate change of their political leaders. Whether you approve or disapprove of kids walking out of school to voice their deep concerns, there’s no arguing with the fact that it’s future generations who will feel the full brunt of the effects of climate change.

I read in the paper the other day that Goldsmiths, University of London, is banning the sale of beef products from its premises in its attempt to become carbon neutral by 2025. Students will also face a 10p levy on bottles of water and single-use plastic cups when the academic year starts to discourage their use. The head of the college says that he’s reacting to what the students – who care passionately about the future of their environment – want. This led me to wonder what our schools and colleges locally are doing to prepare for carbon neutrality.

Local secondary schools offer ‘meal deals’ where a bottle of water or sugary drink is included, which to my mind reinforces the throwaway society message. At a recent school litter pick we found hundreds of discarded water bottles, and not a single recycling point in sight.

Could schools take a leaf out of Goldsmith’s book and impose a levy on single use plastic bottles, or even provide a discount for refills? And whilst I’m not advocating that schools all go vegetarian, perhaps their caterers could introduce meat free Mondays, and cut down on red and processed meat on their menus.

These are just two small changes, but they’re a start. Schools need to do more than just educate their students in academic subjects. They need to encourage them to make sustainable choices and reflect the concerns that more and more young people have about the climate crisis that they’re set to inherit.

This article was first published in the Keynsham Voice – September 2019

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