Ask a teenager in England what she thinks of carbon dating, and she’ll probably tell you it’s brilliant. Seeing your puzzled look, she’ll go on to explain that carbon dating has many options: riding a bike to meet up with your date, or going on a bike ride together; sharing a nice vegetarian dinner by candlelight, instead of using up electricity; or perhaps taking a romantic stroll on the beach with the love of your life. Have a bit of fun, and practice carbon reduction at the same time!
While the British government in Copenhagen may be meeting pressure to reduce its carbon emissions, there is something of a revolution taking place at the school level. The Eco-Schools program has been adopted by more than 31,000 schools around the world, and almost 14,000 of those schools are in England. By contrast, the program is only just getting started in the U.S. The National Wildlife Federation launched Eco-Schools USA in September 2009, and according to their website, they hope to recruit more than 5,000 U.S. schools to the program in the next five years. Good luck!
What are eco-schools? The program, by the U.N.’s Foundation for Environmental Education, teaches kids about sustainable development by encouraging them to take an active role in how their school can be run in a more eco-friendly way. Once registered, schools follow a simple seven-step process that helps them to address a variety of environmental themes, ranging from litter and waste to healthy living and solar heating. (Yes, solar heating does work in England!) Most importantly, children drive the agenda. The school has an eco-council, made up of eco-reps. One of these is ten-year-old Caitlyn Fletcher, who attends a primary school in London. She explains that the kids get the ideas first and then share them with their teachers and others. “We make sure everyone is saving electricity and energy, and we have different monitors in each classroom,” she says, adding that using less light and turning off radiators before opening windows are two big starting points.
Schools can earn a Green Flag, a Silver Award or a Bronze Award, and competition is fierce. Projects to win one of these in 2009 included the Hippo Water Saving Poster Contest, which involved creating a new design to decorate water saving devices, with the winning school receiving a Hippo for every loo in their school and one for every student to take home, and the Wipe Out Waste Awards (WOW). For the 2009 WOW Awards ceremony, students from all over the UK traveled to London to pitch their ideas to “Green Dragons” in a Dragons Den-style event at a London Club. The winning team, made up of 10- and 11-year-olds from a school in Manchester, came up with an ingenious idea to sustain the use of pencils which are normally thrown away when half used. They designed an innovative pencil holder, made from sustainable material, which grips the pencil from new until it is a mere stub.
Since I grew up in England, I am not entirely surprised that Britain is years ahead of the United States in environmental awareness, at least in its schools. Using public transport, having one car per family (or maybe no car), driving small cars, growing your own vegetables, were all a way of life and for the most part, still are. And even though creating a hippo water saving poster isn’t going to change the world, taking one step now, then another, means that environmental awareness is gradually being built into the sensibilities of these young people. And just imagine where that could lead, when they become the ones making the rules.
Time for the U.S. to get serious too! Carbon dating, anyone?