Why children are seeing red about green concerns

15th December 2006 at 00:00
Author Julie Bertagna is spreading the word on global warming - and finds pupils almost angry they haven't been informed before

JULIE BERTAGNA has watched as the world's media reports on her apocalyptic fantasies taking frightening shape in the real world.

"It's happening," she says. "The scary thing is, I'm imagining it 100 years in the future, but in the time between me writing that book and now (it was published in 2002), it's happened."

The Glasgow-based author of the award-winning futuristic novel Exodus, about a drowning world, is talking about just that. Floods, people washed out of their homes, whole villages lost, refugees fleeing from a terrifying force: the headlines, pictures and newspaper clippings she has pasted to boards tell the same story.

"When I first started this, global warming was a tiny story you might read on page 11 of the newspaper; it wasn't front page news."

She shows stories and photographs of flooding and displaced people, homelessness and despair, in Mozambique, the Czech Republic, China, even Glasgow in 2002. An article and picture about refugees fleeing from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo shows the appalling suffering people have to endure when they lose their families and their homes.

"I say to kids, these people are us. They're wearing the same clothes, trainers, the same wee wellies."

A recent school-gate survey by YouGov of 1,500 11 to 14-year-olds around Britain, cites recycling and global warming as having overtaken getting a boyfriend or girlfriend and homework as their biggest concerns.

Ms Bertagna, a former P7 teacher, receives dozens of requests from schools to visit, speaking mainly to children in P7 up to S4. Primary teachers can use her book as a starting point to educate children about climate change or the environment around a class project, while English departments in secondaries invite her to speak to classes or year groups.

She tells them how toxic substances in a mobile phone battery could pollute water and damage the environment if they ended up in a landfill site. Or how one old phone, worth pound;5 to Oxfam, could provide school textbooks to some of the world's poorest communities. She speaks of the benefits of recycling inkjet cartridges, as contrasted with the contamination to the earth of throwing them out.

The children respond almost angrily, saying: "Why has nobody told us this? What does our school do with empty cartridges?"

It's an ideal age to reach them, she says. "The future of the world is in your hands. There are lots of things you can do. If you have millions of people all doing small things, it really makes a difference.'

Pupils have suggested they should be taught these things through personal and social education, and she agrees, because PSE is all about personal choices and the consequences of your actions.

"They're idealistic. I say 'You could be the eco-warrior generation'. They like the sound of that. There's a gap in the curriculum."

In some schools in Glasgow, she says, pupils have set up eco-warrior clubs.

"It seems to be coming from the kids. It's almost as if education's lagging behind."

Zenith, a sequel to Exodus, will be released in February (Picador, Pounds 9.99)

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