Young eco-warriors can save the planet

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Without imagination, how do we visualise the future? So asked the poet Roger McGough in this column in 2001. As an author who has spent almost half of the past decade creating a story of the future, a flood saga of the Earth devastated by unchecked global warming, I believe it is a key question of our time.

"Imagineering", the ability to dream and create, is what makes us human.

But do our dreams create wonders or destruction? It's the question at the heart of my Earth saga. Increasingly, I wonder if imagineering can rescue us from the terrifying scenario of my fictional future world.

The other day, my 12-year-old was chatting. "'I can't wait till I drop chemistry and physics," she groaned. "Me too," said her friend. "Science sucks!"

"But you need sciences," I said. "They're important."

As excitement over the latest Kerrang! drowned me out, I realised something. Our generation has taken so long to wake up to what the near future may hold. We've neglected to tell our children exactly why science is so important - now, more than ever. Our imagineering has taken us to a brink.

The world's scientists agree that we have a window of time in which to act to save future generations from global warming. All kinds of imagineering, with science high on the agenda, will be crucial for my daughter's generation and beyond. Yet the take-up of science in schools is falling year by year. At school author events I talk to so many teenagers who echo my daughter: science sucks.

At dinner, my daughter sits down with a smirk. "I did sex and stuff today,"

she giggles. My husband chokes on his spaghetti. I take a deep breath. But she's only talking about personal and social education. She gets the point of it: periods are relevant and real, unlike the periodic table, which seems unrelated to anything she will ever need to know. Good life choices make sense. Opt for a better future, respect your body, don't take drugs, practise safe sex, be careful with alcohol.

It made me think that what we need is a new, urgent strand of green personal and social education. Good life choices to save all our futures: how to lower your carbon footprint, dispose of mobile phones and inkjet cartridges that contaminate the environment for hundreds of years, green energy and product information. The young might become eco-warriors as easily as they have taken on the role of techno-experts, our saviours when the iPod or new phone flummoxes us.

When I began my Earth saga, global warming popped up occasionally around page 11 in the press. It hit the front pages in the month my book Exodus was published. It was 2002, the summer Europe flooded. A storm of emails from young readers followed publication. Now Zenith, the next part of the story, is soon to be published and the emails (which have never stopped) are no longer questioning. They are adamant. We have to stop this happening, they say. We have to do something fast.

They've seen Hurricane Katrina, and glimpsed a possible future. The next generation needs our help to prepare for the challenges that, even by the most conservative projections, they are likely to face.

Recently, Lord Vallance, a member of the cross-party committee on climate change, spoke about the need for radical action. Let's create an irresistible global challenge, he said, a green technology rush with the energy and momentum of the nuclear arms race or the first moon shot.

Technology got us into this mess and technology is our only hope of getting out of it.

We need youngsters who are up for such a challenge and a curriculum fit for the future. We need a team of inspirational Jamie Olivers to storm the classrooms with some Naked Science. Cyberspace is the new playground. It's where the imagineers of the future are: interconnecting, surfing and seeking and exploring the ether - just like the young imagineers in my story for whom cyberspace is both sanctuary and opportunity in a devastated world.

"They knew," says Mara in Zenith, 100 years from now. "They could've done something but they didn't. They didn't think about the future. They never thought about us." Reader, she means you.

And the poets and storytellers, the imagineers who engender the ability to visualise and dream and create - we must be up for the challenge too.

Julie Bertagna is author of the award-winning Exodus. Its sequel, Zenith, is published by Macmillan Children's Books in February

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