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Blog post Part of special issue: Education for our planet and our future

How inaction on climate chaos has forced our kids to become the vanguards of change

Tonia Gray, Senior Researcher Centre for Educational Research Western Sydney University AUSTRALIA at Western Sydney University

As educators, we are cognizant of the mantra ‘education is an investment in the future’. Our future, quite frankly, is looking bleak in terms of our inaction in the face of the impending climate chaos. Knowledge, attitudes, values, behaviours and skills (KAVBS) are all inextricably linked to our indecisiveness to address the looming climate catastrophe.

The state of play: Time to think differently

Today, the scientific evidence verges on irrefutable: the planet is at a precarious crossroads. For decades scientists have repeatedly warned us that the planet’s systems are dangerously close to irreversible tipping points (Hagerdorn et al., 2019). In 2015, we observed 36 Nobel laureates call for climate protection, yet in the past four years, their pleas have primarily fallen on deaf ears (, 2015). Our anthropocentric greed continues to prioritise and promote economic growth over environmental sustainability, despite the gallant efforts of UNESCO’s UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Universally we are witnessing rapid global warming, mass extinction, large-scale habitat destruction, and critical loss of insect populations. At this pivotal time, we need educational leaders who are legacy minded and prepared to employ their leadership in inciting climate action (Dattner et al., 2019).

Photo: Shutterstock, via author

Children and youth are the vanguards of change

Students are acutely aware that we live in an environmentally volatile time and face an uncertain future. I was heartened by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s speech at Davos in January 2019, when she pleaded:

   ‘I want you to act as you would in a crisis.

    I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.’

Children and young people across the globe are becoming increasingly empowered and vociferous against a systematic failure to address the climate chaos. As pedagogues we know that activism, agency and citizenship should be promoted as inherent components of the school curriculum. By abandoning their classrooms and engaging in mass global protests, these children and youth have been empowered to reshape the face of contemporary society. A recent initiative arising in Australia invited artworks from 5-to-13-year-olds around the globe in an attempt to gauge the depth and authenticity of their understanding. The artefacts they produced were nothing short of outstanding.

Photo: Shutterstock, via author

Becoming ‘rogues’: Uniting with our students

I call on likeminded educators to swiftly respond to our students’ initiative and leadership. By unifying our efforts and declaring our solidarity with the students, we can help amplify the uprising of the #FridaysForFuture movement for Mother Earth and for climate justice.

In January 2019, I had the privilege to travel on an all-female expedition to Antarctica with two world leaders in the field: Christiana Figueres and Fabian Dattner. Consequently, I’ve turned ‘rogue’ and morphed into a ‘stubbornly optimistic loving disruptor’ (a term I co-joined after voyaging for 21 days with Christiana and Fabian). I refuse to stand by and let less informed or unaware people dictate the future of the planet. Greta Thunberg, I thank you for propelling us into action and for your infamous phrase ‘our house is on fire’. The communitas #FridaysForFuture has created is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and to the masses of striking children and youth I say:

   ‘I honour your courage, tenacity and volition.

    I stand with you and support you’.

The situation is urgent and our future is at stake.

If you care deeply about Mother Earth, and about the people and animals who live on it, then let us re-engage with pedagogical hope by joining our pupils in fighting for our future.

Reflective questions

  • What priority will be placed on showcasing different pedagogies which elevate climate justice, activism, agency and action?
  • What do you pledge to do in your sphere of influence or pedagogical practice?

References (2015). Nobel Laureates call for climate protection (webpage). Retrieved from

Dattner, F., Adams, S., Alexander, K., Cano, M., Clarke, Kate, Clarke, Kelsie, Collins, D., Conn, C., Doyle, B., Dubini, A., Feeney, M., Goh, A., Gray, T., Hann, M., Hart, M., Hessenberger, D., Humanes, A., Jahangir, A., Lopez, U., Oaten, M., Payo Payo, A., Pérez-Porro, A., Sealey, K., Taranovic, V., Unterstell, N., Verspoor, K., Ward-Fear, G., Wang, L., & Wehi, C. (2019). Mother nature needs her daughters: A homeward bound global review and fact sheet investigating gender inequality in STEMM: Research report. Sydney: Centre for Educational Research, Western Sydney University. Retrieved from

Hagerdorn, G., Kalmus, P., Mann, M., Vicca, S., Van den Berge, J., van Ypersele, J-P., Bourg, D., Rotmans, J., Kaaronen, R., Rahmstorf, S., Kromp-Kolb, H., Kirchengast, G., Knutti, R., Seneviratne, S. I., Thalmann, P. Cretney, R., Green, A., Anderson, K., Hedberg, M., Nilsson, D., Kuttner, A., & Hayhoe, K. (2019). Concerns of young protesters are justified. Science, 364(6436), 139–140. doi: 10.1126/science.aax3807

Further inspiration

‘Kids Care About Climate Change’ Drawing Contest (closed):

‘Taking action on climate crisis: An urgent call to educators’, petition:

Turner, V. (1974). Dramas, fields, and metaphors: Symbolic action in human society. Cornell University Press.