From Ms Allum

I have had a number of comments and responses to my Behind the Green Gate article of a couple of weeks ago about the School Strike 4 Climate which is happening on Friday. I do thank all of the parents who wrote to me – some thinking that I had made the wrong decision, and others who agreed with or supported my stance.

I also received a letter which was signed by a very large number of (mostly) younger Old Girls, encouraging me to take a different position.

I met with two of the SCEGGS Alumni who were signatories to that letter – Olivia Schmidt and Stella Maynard. They are two of the most impressive young adults you could ever wish to meet. They were thoughtful, considered, intelligent, well-informed. They were also so empathic – wanting to demonstrate solidarity with students at SCEGGS who are rightly expressing significant concern, anxiety and sometimes despair surrounding climate change, but also demonstrating empathy to me, understanding the complexities of my position and wanting to listen, understand and engage with me on my concerns and hesitancies. I couldn’t be prouder of those two and would hold them up as beacons of all I want our young people to be!

I have been somewhat swayed by them both! I have already articulated my beliefs around Climate Science, and I repeat it here for clarity:

As I said last time, I believe the scientific evidence which tells us that the currently observed Climate Change is real and anthropogenic, and that the impact of human life on our world is significant. I believe that Governments should be doing far more long term thinking and specifically much more than they are doing currently about Climate Change, to protect the future health and sustainability of our planet.

I asked my Scientist friend (Prof Tony Haymet, Distinguished Professor and Director & Vice-Chancellor Emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California) about how to think of this. Here is what he said:

Yes, things are looking very bad for planet earth. Most of the heat caused by burning of fossil fuels has gone into the ocean (93%), causing sea-level rise, changes to fisheries and ecosystems, changing ocean currents, and changes to rainfall for almost all our farmers. Air temperatures are rising inexorably. Glaciers currently on land are melting, adding even more to sea-level rise. It’s bad. When I visited Bangladesh twice earlier in 2019, I felt famine was just around the corner.

Fortunately, we know EXACTLY what is causing this. It is not natural. It is 100% caused by humans emitting extra Greenhouse gases (GHG). What we have done in 150 years, we can undo, although simple chemical kinetics tells us it will take much much longer in the reverse direction than in the forward direction. Up to 2000 years according to Susan Solomon at MIT.

More good news: we know how to produce all the electricity we need without making more GHG. For example, California will do that by 2030, possibly sooner. In transport, we can use electric small cars, or hydrogen power small cars, all running on pollution free fuel. For trucks and construction equipment, we have more research to do. But no-one in my world is daunted.

For aeroplanes and big ships we need to manufacture liquid fuel which uses up as much GHG in its manufacture as it emits. We can already do that with fuel produced with algae. Aeroplanes have flown on algae fuel. The US Navy has green ships.

We need to reduce GHG pollution from agriculture. We have more work to do, but there are plenty of young scientists and farmers stepping up to the challenge.

Probably we will overshoot the “sustainable” amount of GHG in our atmosphere. So we need to actually remove some. Again, we have not perfected that technology yet, but there are great ideas out there, and pilot plants in operation. Sweden for example has CO2 removal built into its GHG legislation.

So what’s the problem? The problem is politicians, and vested interests who have been allowed to pollute “for free” since the industrial revolution, clinging onto their historical, mistakenly-granted privilege.

So what do we need? We need more young, ethical, well-educated scientists & engineers, farmers, economists and politicians. We need great teachers to educate not just this generation but the next and the next and the next until we have recovered from this global pollution overload.

I am not yet convinced that time off school to protest is more important or significant than doing a whole range of other things – some local action, some global movements (but in a student’s own time!). But it is a moot point anyway – you don’t get permission to strike either! So if parents give written permission for the girls to go to the strike, they will be marked Absent without Leave, but they won’t be punished, or “thought badly of”, and no negative consequences will flow in any way. I have been persuaded that this is a “unique and significant moment in international public advocacy about the future of the planet”.

As always, please let me know your thoughts and ideas about all this.

Jenny Allum
Head of School