Teaching English in Georgia using the Subject of Climate Change
From the archive. Originally published 2008. Since then I have new ideas about the approach to Climate Change. I studied for 3 years on the subject at university over 10 year ago and I have watched the media regurgitate the problem year in year out since then. The practice of addressing the issue of Climate Change is complicated on the scale of society. However, the individual, different sized companies and governments all have different parts to play and difficult blame that can be apportioned to them. Also we have immense inequality so it might not even be possible to ‘categorize’ as such but rather to single out individual groups.
Last night I went to teach my English speaking lesson at the ‘Georgian-Scottish-House’ in Tbilisi. I have been thinking about how I can do my bit to help spread awareness about the now widely accepted human-induced climate change that is happening. During the planning, I found ‘Are We Changing Planet Earth’, a BBC documentary which is the similar to ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ - the documentary by Al Gore. It is narrated by the irrefutable David Attenborough which really hits the message home. David Attenborough is one of the world’s most acclaimed broadcasters and naturalists. He has been the face of British natural history programmes for the last 50 years. I got hold of the documentary and took it to my lesson. 10 minutes before the end of the lesson I played it and everyone sat and watched it for an extra hour after the normal finish time, completely engaged..
“We would all like to know for certain what will happen to our climate in the future whether we will be sweltering in a heatwave, or inundated by floods, but scientists can only give us a range of possibilities, and what they’re telling us is that our world will warm anywhere between 1.4 and 5.8 degree celsius. To put it another way, the impact of global warming will be somewhere between severe and catastrophic.”
When you hear David Attenborough say that you know everyone is going to take notice.
Models of Climate Change
They watched computer generated images of carbon dioxide transmitted into the atmosphere and the greenhouse gas building up to thicken the blanket in our planet’s atmosphere. There are many climate models across the world. They all agree greenhouse gases will warm the system by similar amounts. No models dispute climate change. The range of temperatures are between 2 and 6 degrees over 100 years. A change of 6 degrees would be so rapid as to cause irreparable damage. The forecast for the next 25 years is widely agreed on as being accurate and there is not we can do about the inertia of the change because it’s based on what we’ve already emitted in the past - a warming of 1-2 degrees across the UK, for example. A visit is paid to the Hadley Centre in the MET office where they are using one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe which can do 10 billion calculations every second, a ‘flight simulator’ for the climate. It is predicting a bumpy ride.
They learnt about the impacts:
- There is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than in the last 600, 000 years
- Every 25 billion tonnes extra carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere
- In the year 2050 38 degrees will be a normal temperature for London
- It is difficult for species to migrate fast enough as the climate in their habitat changes so rapidly and that in 100 years over half the world’s species could be under threat of extinction.
- Drought in the Amazon and the destruction of the forest which is the most biodiversity rich area on the planet containing many undiscovered species.
Flooding and Hazardous Weather
The students saw the footage of the ‘Boscastle Floods’ with streets underwater and cars being swept down the road like a river. They sat and watched intently as the film showed forest fires in Australia, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
The Carbon Family
Half of carbon dioxide from mankind comes from domestic activities and the ‘Carbon Family’ is a fictional ‘average-suburban’ family in the film. The family looks like a typical UK family, using the microwave, kettle, cooker, owning 2 cars and using air travel. The emissions caused by buying food which is imported over a long distance. Then they watched the changing situation in China where an average family currently uses 1/7 energy of a western family, but things are changing. China intends to build a coal fired power station every week for the next 7 years to the fuel the increasingly energy intensive lifestyle. I liked the way the documentary makes the connection between the everyday appliances in the home directly to the power plant and to the collapsing ice shelf in the Arctic. In the Antarctic there was the complete disintegration of the Larson B ice shelf in 2002, indicating a ‘tipping point’, where more dark ocean is exposed to the sun and more heat is absorbed causing a feedback loop of warming.
Solutions to the Climate Crisis
The thing I was really glad to show them as they seemed to look increasingly worried and concerned, was the piece at the end on how we solve the problem. The scientist Steve Bacala explains we have the technology to halt the rise of carbon emissions during this generation with his ‘7 slice model’. Each slice represents a method to cut out a contributor of greenhouse gas.
Cut domestic use.
- Turn down the thermostat 3 degrees to reduce 1 tonne of carbon into the atmosphere.
- Turn gadgets/appliances/television off (not on standby) to save 10% of domestic energy use.
- Use energy saving light bulbs.
- Compost organic rubbish.
- Use a gas hob.
- Get better and more insulation in your house.
- Clean your fridge to save 200 kg of greenhouse gas.
- Buy locally grown produce
- Make an eco-friendly cup of tea but not putting more water than you need.
Drive differently and Use public transport.
The students, looked happier and relieved as they sat and watched the ‘Carbon Family’ switch to a nice shiny Toyota Prius instead of a gas guzzling 4x4. Get an energy efficient car (that does at least 60 miles to the gallon). Switching to public transport where possible rather than private transport
Alternative power (including controversial Nuclear).
The documentary shows solar power farms in China and gigantic wind turbines off the coast of the UK with their football pitch diameter turbine blades.
Pumping carbon dioxide back underground on huge rigs in the sea (Geosequestration).
There is a general sigh of relief as their are more solutions put forward such as tree-planting in China, fuel cell cars, solar heaters and domestically living in an efficient and sustainable way.
It’s easy to think that for a country like Georgia they have to follow the same path of development to reach the stage of ‘Western development' before progressing further. I don’t believe this is true. In the West, we made the mistakes first, and now we have the technology to solve the problems of human-accelerated climate change. This technology should ideally be shared globally to ensure that other developing countries won’t make the same mistakes. Young people are very engaged in the issues of climate change because it concerns their future. Their reaction is fear but this then becomes hopefulness and pragmatism. Something as simple as showing a documentary such as this to friends, school classes, or work colleagues is surely a good way to spread awareness about the major issues of climate change.
- Click here for more information about the ‘Climate Chaos’ series of BBC programmes
- Interesting article on how much fuel in a car actually goes on transporting you and why bikes are great