Education or Activism

Story by Nia Jones

I’m not quite sure where my passion for the environment started. I have early memories of dragging my parents to a local recycling centre with homemade bins (home recycling wasn’t a thing then) and winning a green ‘Blue Peter’ badge for my letter to the programme about recycling dehumidifier water to water the plants. We learned about the ozone hole in primary school, and then climate change in secondary school, but these were pretty much consistently presented as facts we should learn – not things we could change.

It wasn’t until University – where I’m now in my third year studying Environmental Geography – that the magnitude of these problems became apparent. I no longer saw these problems as abstract and hard to understand, but issues that directly affected me.

I’ve also realised quite a strange reality. I am so passionate about environmental science and conserving our planet that it’s seeped into everything I do. I study pollution, oceanography, and environmental policy during the day, while also campaigning against single-use plastic and other environmental problems throughout Cardiff during my free time.

Conservation is a clear theme throughout large parts of my life; however, my ‘academic’ and ‘activist’ lives are often distinctly separate, despite operating in the same space – sometimes even within the same buildings. I campaign, write and engage probably as much as I study, but very rarely have I been actively taught to do these things.

Very rarely are we taught that we have the power to change things now and not in a decade when we’ve become an expert in our field. Even more rarely are we taught that sometimes, the students can do the teaching.

Greta Thunberg is a superstar. She’s inspired children and young people, including myself, to get out and march. There’s no overstating it either; children are now marching for their lives. Without rapid action today, those born tomorrow won’t reach adulthood before experiencing the catastrophic effects a warming climate will have on the globe.

The climate strike on March the 15th felt revolutionary. A worldwide coalition of young people deciding to demand action from those who have sat idle for so long – far longer than these children have even been on this Earth.

However, it also put a magnifying glass on my – and I’m sure many other people’s – internal conflict about education and activism. I went to the march, and I marched and chanted along with the crowd, but only for half of it. This was because I had to go back to University to take an exam on, ironically, the impacts of climate change on glaciers. I couldn’t miss this exam without it impacting negatively on my final degree grade, but the irony was not lost on me – what’s the point in learning about it if no one is listening?

I know some of my peers felt they had to miss the march completely to prepare for this exam, and many others around the country might’ve felt they couldn’t because they were revising for GCSEs, A Levels, or covering an important topic in a lesson.

I have the highest respect for the teachers and parents I saw standing alongside their pupils on Friday; you guys are heroes. But I’ve seen few schools – and fewer Universities  – publicly support this strike. What needs to happen now is educational institutions need to see this as the educational opportunity it is.

Why not encourage students to take a stand, educate themselves and push for positive, impactful change? Why not stick your head above the parapet and realise the weight your institutional influence would have behind your students? Young people will be hardest hit by climate change; why are you not only failing to equip them with the tools for a sustainable future but also failing to provide support to those who have been forced to take matters into their own hands?

These questions will hopefully be answered following growing pressure from young people and the wider population. Indications that our demands are being heard were already flowing from the strike before it had even finished. The UN secretary general has called for a climate summit in September. This is the evidence that all sceptics need; children have an influence far more powerful than most realise. Not only do they influence their families and friends around them (like my homemade recycling boxes) but also have a collective voice far more compelling than any politician or CEO out there.

I just wish I had the knowledge, courage, and encouragement to march along in my school uniform like they are now when I was sitting confused about the ozone hole in primary school. I hope that this march, and wider movement, will continue to inspire all people to realise the influence that every member of the public has on current behaviour and the future of our planet. Maybe then we’ll start to see true, meaningful change that will benefit us all.

“I said “Somebody should do something about that.” Then I realized I am somebody.”

― Lily Tomlin

If you want to follow Nia on Twitter or Instagram, follow @_niahjones

Jessie Panazzolo

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Hi! I am the founder of Lonely Conservationists and have been lonely in conservation projects spanning seven equatorial countries. My brain is 99% random animal facts 🦕

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