A Children’s Book & COP26

Can a children's book save the planet

Reading and saving the planet


How can a child, snuggled in bed being read to from our Reindeer Book, or any of our other books for that matter, possibly have anything to do with COP26 and the fate of the planet and life on Earth?

Maybe I oversimplify things. I find politics mind-bogglingly complicated and jargon filled when all we all need is warmth, shelter, food and protection from physical harm and illness. 

I’m no environmental scientist, social engineer or politician but maybe my point of view will help others see what things like COP26 looks like to a jobbing naturalist and artist and how it relates to our latest ‘product’, a rhyming book about reindeer. 

We are reindeer storybook

Problems and solutions

I’d like to think that the COP26 folk (from 200 countries) who have seen for themselves, the problems and the causes of those problems (primarily fossil fuels) – should present us with solutions (eg stop using them). Because our book is intended to educate our youngest people about climate change (among other things), with an upbeat message. And I’m writing about it to encourage people to buy and read it. I felt I should look at some of the results of COP26. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it exists, I think it should exist. I want them very much to carry on and I don’t disagree with what they propose on the whole. My problem is that it is a fog of words, fairly self-congratulatory and a bit weak. I know this is how diplomacy works as World leaders and CEOs are sensitive about what’s said to them and what they’re asked to make their voters and subjects and funders do.

But… 

This is a global apocalyptic crisis and they are dithering around about the achievability of a 1.5 degree RISE in global temperature as the agreed target. It’s very difficult not to swear and I like the goals of net zero emissions. But 1.5 surely will not happen unless we aim for -1.5 at least.  

I hear calls that stopping coal could harm vulnerable people and that massive funding is needed to mitigate the necessary adaptations. But all the warnings and solutions have been sitting around for years… thousands of years really. 

What I looked for (and I had to look quickly I admit) on the COP26 website was information about education programmes and commitments. What I found looked wishy-washy to me but it’s here

“Youth & Public Empowerment was at the heart of COP26, through its own dedicated day and through the agreement of the 10 year Glasgow Work Programme on Action for Climate Empowerment which promotes youth engagement, climate education and public participation. Together, these built on the Youth4Climate event held by our COP partners Italy and elevated the voices of young climate policy experts, particularly those on the frontline, and facilitated their engagement with decision-makers. The programme for the day was developed in collaboration with YOUNGO (the Official Children’s and Youth Constituency to the UNFCCC) and a diverse network of youth organisations to profile the COY16 Global Youth Position Statement and the Youth4Climate Manifesto with Ministers and negotiators.

As part of the events programme, we brought together climate and education Ministers who put forward over 20 national climate education pledges, ranging from decarbonising the school sector to providing extra training for teachers to include climate literacy across the curriculum. As part of the UK’s pledge, we launched the Department for Education’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. Days before COP26, YOUNGO (the Official Children’s and Youth Constituency to the UNFCCC) held the 16th UN Conference of Youth in Glasgow and launched the Global Youth Position Statement, representing the climate priorities of over 40,000 young people globally. As part of the UK Presidency’s commitment to amplifying youth voices, we endorsed this conference and hosted a headline event in collaboration with YOUNGO on Youth & Public Empowerment day at COP26.” 

I accept that youth is probably the right age group to hit with this information in a climate emergency as they’ll be the first out of school but I think infants should be the long term goal and not as crisis and solutions but simply put as ‘ways to be in ordinary like’. 

To be fair, our own government have said this. 

“We are putting climate change at the heart of education. As part of COP26, the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, the Education Secretary set out his vision to empower all young people in the importance of conserving and protecting our planet, as well as developing the skills needed to solve the problems.” 

I worry though that it’s a sop. 

Money gets mentioned too much, along with goals and pledges. When what is needed is solid advice and examples of ways to live that will not only not harm our environment but help mend it. Most governments, businesses and even individuals are capable of actual altruistic sacrifices in this emergency. That’s a big part of what we need first; then look at the costly things. The same government that put out the statement above, also voted to let sewage into our rivers. With that attitude I worry a lot that we are being fobbed off. It’s hard to sift through the avalanche of words. 

Emissions

Turn on the TV and what do we see, Formula One is still legal and Top Gear. It’s not just emissions, it’s the production of these things, the materials, the tarmac and concrete and metal. Luxury vehicles are still promoted and abound on our roads, yes some are electric and hybrid but, guys… production and they are still powered from somewhere. Diesel lorries rumble along taking tat to Poundland, Primark and B&M bargains including plastics and microfibres. And yes, some of the lorries are biodiesel . But, whatever its source it is usually harvested by other fuelled vehicles, grown from ploughed fields and sustained with pesticides and fertilizers. All of which have production costs to the environment. 

Surely there should be an engine size limit for cars for personal use unless some special licence is obtained. Surely every roadside verge and bit of ‘public grass’ does not need to be mown. These are just examples, it’s all around us and COP26 should, in my opinion, have said this to its delegates, audience and target communities. 

Take everyone outside

Go to your schools, colleges, universities and businesses. Take everyone outside into the open air and point out the causes of our environment crisis. They are there all around us happening now. Cars driving by, vapour trails in the sky, mechanised farming, plastic drainpipes, coal fires, unnecessary transport. The school run for instance is largely its own problem. Many roads are almost empty in school holidays. But people drive their kids to school to keep them safe from traffic. Not the only reason of course. Talking to children is the quickest most solid way to stop it. Introducing skills and knowledge into schools and daily life straight away is fundamental to averting the problems the whole world faces. 

Possible solutions

The industrial and social revolutions are so recent that greener ways are easily visible just behind us. Wood and leather craft instead of plastics. Allotments in schools, good old fashioned walking and village stores, carts and wheel barrows, an immediate change is possible. 

How about banning traffic during the 8am to 9am school run (as an experiment at first in certain places). So all kids can walk safely to school and not breath in fumes. Anyone who needs transport then simply must walk, cycle or travel later. (I know I work from home so…)

Elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is the economy.

Yes the economy. Politicians are funded by big finance on the one side which is financed by fuel companies and consumerism. On the other side are the voters who largely want more affluence, safety, convenience etc at the cheapest price. If enough of us don’t get what we want the politicians are out. Whoever says the right thing gets in. British Wildlife Magazine News (October 2021) said this (relating to biodiversity rather than climate change but the threats are significantly alike)… 

“Clive Spash and Frederic Hache have issued a critical guide, and deconstruction of, the recent Dasgupta Review of the economics of biodiversity. They accuse the review of ‘framing critical biodiversity loss as an issue of asset management and population size’ and say that it ‘is blind to avoid questioning economic growth, which remains unchallenged and depoliticized’.” 

Economic Growth – the guilty party

And for me, there it is! The most guilty party in our biodiversity and climate crisis has diplomatic immunity on a global level. If we are not honest with our children, all of them, about how money is made, where it goes and what it does, COP26 and any successors will most likely fail. As politicians are experts at pretending to support a cause for which they have no sympathy or real intention of supporting. They are so wrapped up in contradicting activities that they couldn’t if they wanted to.

So, I feel its up to us real people in the real world to make the change. Back to simpler, affordable, gentler ways for the sake of all life on earth. That’s why we’ve written our books – meant to be read for the first time by children snuggled in bed with a parent and then used as a guide for practical nature study and conservation action. 

I hope you enjoy this blog, we’re playing the long game but think children reconnecting with nature is critical. To do it we need to educate adults alongside them. It’s our attempt at achieving net zero and increased biodiversity and we rank it as a Nature-Based Solution. Probably not entirely as intended but as recommended by the IUCN.

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