A hop, skip and jump across the Atlantic, there exists a land of rolling hills and dales that come in so many shades of green that residents of Wales use at least six different terms to describe the varying tones that they typically see outside their window. This lush region is part of the archipelago known as Great Britain, also encompassing England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. If you’ve ever set foot on U.K. soil, you’re likely familiar with its balmy, temperate and ever-precipitous climate, not to mention the thick tapestry of plant life carpeting the landscape. In this heavily populated landmass, toting an umbrella is simply just common sense, because Mother Nature is quite fond of keeping it nice and moist. And yet things have been changing slowly but steadily for the last several decades. As with so many other regions around the world, Great Britain has experienced the bizarre effects of global warming firsthand with everything from extreme winter and summer temperature swings, to prolonged droughts and random wildfires, the latter of which was formerly unheard of in a country normally prone to such regular precipitation. It’s understandable that the government has a keen interest in forging a more sustainable future for its residents, and one of the best ways to do so is to appeal to the younger generation. Why? Because they’re more likely to embrace eco-positive lifestyle changes by perceiving them as globally beneficial rather than personally sacrificial. An even better way to inspire the younger generation to “go green” throughout their lifetime is to demonstrate that they are worth investing in. Close to seven years ago, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his team launched a unique and admittedly ambitious multi-billion-dollar plan that strived to do precisely that. Called Building Schools for the Future, the 2004 initiative was meant to sustainably revamp every secondary school in England throughout a 20-year period so each learning institution reflected a more modern appearance while also delivering a cutting-edge 21st-century education. Sounds great! Except, how does one go about figuring out which of the nation’s 21,400 school buildings are most deserving of the eco-facelift? That, in and of itself, presented its fair share of logistical, budgetary and scheduling issues. While the project did, in fact, tackle upgrades on roughly 500 learning institutions (many of which achieved a “very good” sustainability rating from an environmental assessment organization called BREEAM), challenges along the way, coupled with a new governmental administration and a re-evaluation of funds, resulted in current Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove cancelling it all together. Finito. No more eco- or educational upgrades for the kiddies. This development echoes the fate of an equally commendable, eco-inspired program that also ended up on the chopping block thanks to budgetary limitations. Clear Skies was a proposed £10-million renewable energy grant designed to fund wind turbines throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, specifically for schools, hospitals and other nonprofit organizations. Clean green energy at no cost — seems like a match made in heaven for educational facilities cultivating impressionable minds. Given how the global economy has suffered in recent years, Great Britain certainly hasn’t been immune to the belt-tightening effects. Alas, money doesn’t grow on trees, and as practical as it seems (at least on paper) to pour funds into learning institutions (even with good eco-intentions), it ultimately becomes hard to justify when there are so many other fiscal issues to contend with. What is truly unfortunate is that this isn’t an isolated occurrence. It’s a common conundrum experienced every single day around the world. In a depressed economy, which do we deem more important: making eco-friendly lifestyle decisions (that may cost more upfront but reap long-term rewards) or saving money, no matter the future consequences? The answer might become more apparent by taking a gander at the latest weather global phenomenon rearing its ugly head.
The Sustainability Efforts of the U.K.’s School System
Attempts to retrofit school buildings and increase eco-awareness among students have stalled in a country determined to fight the effects of climate change.