The British government has put climate change at the ‘heart of education’ since 2021. Not maths, not English or science, but climate change. In fact, climate change was incorporated into the school curriculum as long ago as 2013. I am learning now exactly what this means: lessons in climate change… in French!
The ‘issue’ of climate change has been taught to me since I started Year 8, aged 12. I have been told that climate change is something to worry about and it is going to affect my life. I have always had my doubts but, worryingly, this lesson has a significant impact on some students’ mental health. According to the Telegraph, more than half of teenagers think the world will likely end in their lifetimes as academics warn ‘eco-anxiety’ is on the rise.
Thankfully, the COVID-19 restrictions prevented the topic from being taught at the start of my secondary school career. But I am now in Year 9 and the climate issue is front and centre. And I don’t just mean we’re being taught about climate change in Science and Geography. This year, we’re learning about climate change in French. No more memorising how to order un croissant avec café au lait or how to tell your friend it is une belle journeé de printemps. Oh no. We are learning how to regurgitate ‘climate emergency’ propaganda in French. Some examples of the questions that we must answer in French are: ‘What do you do to protect the environment?’, ‘Are you environmentally friendly and how?’, ‘Are you passionate about the environment?’ and ‘What concerns you about the planet?’. My teacher does give you the option of not agreeing with the general tenor of the questions, and says you can say the opposite. Unfortunately, she doesn’t teach us how to say that.
Surely, there are better things for schools to teach us in French? I don’t think I will go to France when I am older and have a conversation with anyone about climate change. Before this, we were learning about normal things, like describing our school and what instruments or sports we play. Now, it’s all about saving the la planète.
We are mostly taught about global warming and how quickly our planet is heating up. Apparently, the average global temperature is due to rise by 4°C by the end of the century. In fact, global temperatures have increased barely at all in the last 25 years, apart from a blip in 2014 caused by El Nino, an entirely natural phenomenon.
We’re also supposed to worry about carbon emissions. It’s drilled into our heads that we need to reduce our carbon footprint and, if possible, be carbon neutral. At the end of a script that we must learn by rote, our teachers talk about air pollution and urge us to take a bus instead of a car. But does a bus not release carbon too? Trains emit the lowest CO2 per mile, 177 grams, while buses come in at 299 grams per mile, second only to cars at 371 grams. Surely, we should be encouraged to take le train? Nonetheless, CO2, which is always called a ‘greenhouse gas’, is plant food and not a pollutant. CO2, which is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, is beneficial to trees and plants without which we cannot survive.
If global warming is taking place then it may be good for some countries. Although U.K. weather is unpredictable, it’s extreme. In summer, the average temperature ranges from 9-18°C and in winter the average is between 2-7°C, but it can drop below 0°C. Summers becoming hotter and more prolonged was among the many impacts that climate change has allegedly had on the U.K. However, would it not be better if our temperatures did rise? For the entire United States, excluding Hawaii and Alaska, the summer season averages 22.2°C. They seem to survive.
There is no need to instil this generational panic about climate change. We particularly don’t need to be taught how to panic in another language. But unfortunately this worry has already made its way into people’s heads in my school. I was discussing climate change with one of my friends last week, when he blurted out some nonsense about how we should be doing more and worrying more about it. I simply trotted out some of the facts I’ve cited above and he instantly changed his mind. Most of my peers agree with me about this, but the few that do not have been quick to change their minds to when I present them with the counter-evidence. I should say, neither I nor any of my classmates has ever had any pushback from our French teacher for being climate contrarians – I think she’s just happy we’re intellectually curious about something. But she still hasn’t taught us how to express our scepticism in French!
I’m glad I’ve been able to save a few of my peers from being sucked into the climate worry hole. But I worry that most of my generation will be needlessly stressing out about it for years to come.