Climate Change Protests: Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?

The urgency surrounding climate change is increasing. A subject that was, until relatively recently, largely confined to the industry specialists I follow on Twitter has now broken into the mainstream with the recent UK climate change protests - all carried out by children.

Following a concept started by Greta Thunberg, students went on strike from school to protest that not enough is being done to protect their long-term futures.

“My kids made me do it”

There is a scrap of paper lying around my desk, with a note scribbled on it. For months it has survived several culls of loose paper, and numerous attempts at reorganisation, designed to improve my efficiency and productivity (nope, they weren’t acts of procrastination at all, no way).

The scribbled note on the scrap of paper says: “Jack Black buying a Prius.”

During an interview for an unspecified movie (I can’t remember which one, that’s how long the scrap of paper has been hanging around), Jack Black described the influence his children had on persuading/guilting him into considering a more emissions-friendly car.

His story landed much more profoundly with me than it possibly deserved, for I’ve long wondered if the key to getting adults interested in the topics I deal with in my line of work - building comfort and performance, climate change etc. - is through the younger generation.

Show of support

Despite being gravely concerned about climate change and its impact on the planet as we know it, I’m frequently paralysed by uncertainty as to what practical difference I can make.

Children protesting climate change don’t want to live in a world that is mostly this

It’s been astonishing and heartening, therefore - and rather shaming - to see children stepping up to the plate and actually doing something, calling on world leaders and governments to take serious, meaningful action on the issue.

Despite the wide support for the protests, sadly - and utterly predictably - those most in a position to act chose not to engage directly with the topic at hand.

Our very own Prime Minister, continuing to demonstrate the leadership qualities of a discarded carrier bag drifting aimlessly across a piece of derelict urban land, seemed not to grasp that climate change solutions may have slipped away from us by the time these children are looking for employment.

A face palm emoji would be appropriate at this point, but I’ll settle for this tweet instead:

Engaging schools with the built environment

We are nearly at the time of year when a good chunk of the construction industry decamps to ExCel London for the Futurebuild trade show.

After the 2018 edition, its last under the name ‘Ecobuild’, I reflected on the familiar sight of school groups attending the show. In light of the school strikes, and finally having something to which my Jack Black note related, it seemed like a good time to reproduce a piece I wrote last year, and which first appeared in Insulate Magazine.

Schooled in Insulation

What year was the battle of Hastings?

Who were the wives of Henry VIII?

How long was the reign of Queen Victoria?

Questions like these might bring you out in a cold sweat, remembering school days long since passed, spent being forced to recite facts you were happy to forget again.

Or you simply might not care. Though, ironically, those questions are such clichéd examples of ‘old school’ schooling that it’s likely you could have a good stab at answering them!

They are clichés for a reason: because they typify a style of learning that is how people used to think education should be done, but which is now generally considered to be outmoded and having little relevance to the modern world.

We can all reel off topics we think should have been taught at school. Subjects that might have made finding our way in the world that little bit easier; that would have been more relevant to our everyday lives. Mortgage interest rates over quadratic equations, that kind of thing. Is it time building performance became one of those subjects?

‘Down with the kids’

During my couple of days at Ecobuild, school groups seemed more prevalent in 2018, and people I spoke to made a similar remark. It’s good to know that young adults making decisions about shaping their lives are being exposed to the changing face of a dynamic industry.

In theory.

While I took a breather in the ExCel’s central atrium, a group of school pupils occupied the table next to me and began rifling through their bags of freebies. One picked out an insulation sample and threw it on to the table.

“What’s that?” he said, somewhat dismissively.

“Insulation,” replied a friend.

Any chance of further insight into their attitude towards insulation was quickly lost to a block of post-it notes that captured their attention instead. It was a disappointing scene.

Back to school

What’s the motivation behind school visits to a show like Ecobuild? What do teachers want the pupils to get out of it? Do they discuss what was exhibited at the event? Ecobuild’s organisers have already signalled their intent to change the exhibition’s name to Futurebuild in 2019; these children are the ‘future’ part of that name.

Educating people of school age about the buildings they live, work and play in would be a fine addition to any curriculum. Whether they go on to work in the construction industry or not, they will all be building owners, occupiers and users. They stand to inherit the existing building stock which is responsible for high levels of energy consumption and carbon emissions, and low levels of occupant comfort and wellbeing.

Should exhibitions, or even individual exhibitors, make more effort to engage with schools and visiting pupils? Or is long term thinking incompatible with being there to sell to current customers?