by Emily Nancarrow, Environmental Representative

I remember being a university student, listening attentively to my lecturer recount a story about attending a prestigious academic event. At the event, tertiary educators teaching classes about sustainability, conservation, environmental health and social science expressed their concerns and fears for the future. My lecturer’s recount of the event conveyed an overwhelming undertone of pessimism regarding the future health of our life-supporting planet. He told us that university educators from all around the world were asking “How can we instil a sense of hope within our students if we are losing hope ourselves?”

My arms still prickle with goosebumps when I think about the despair that welled inside of me. I remember angrily thinking why on earth this guy thought it was appropriate to share a story of hopelessness with a class full of young, inspired and passionate environmental advocates. Maybe he valued honesty and just wanted to authentically express himself? Maybe he was attempting some reverse psychology and hoping to actually invigorate us with powerful motivation to dismantle the establishment? I will never really know.

What I do know is that it solidified my attitude towards the importance of maintaining hope. Hope propels us to believe that a better, healthier and more prosperous future is possible and in the poetic words of John Steinbeck “Hope, even hopeless hope, never hurt anybody” (The Winter of Our Discontent).

The confronting discourse surrounding climate change, climate science and environmental health renders hope more important than ever.

A quick search on ye ol’ internet retrieves results that warn us about the devastating impact humans are having on our life-supporting land, ocean and sky. The UN, in light of the UN Climate Action Summit, reported that leading scientists behind the 2019 report Climate Action and Support Trends  warn that climate change is striking more severely and earlier than previously forecast. They also express alarming concerns that we are on the cusp of hitting a critical ecological tipping point, using ‘regeneration’ instead of ‘sustainability’ to articulate necessary behaviour change. We have surpassed our capacity to simply live ‘sustainably’ and instead need to regenerate the land, water and air we have exhausted. Similarly, many prominent global organisations such as the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), WWF (World Wildlife Fund, not World Wrestling Federation), CSIRO and School Strike 4 Climate actively produce material that informs and inspires us to overcome the “greatest challenge facing this generation…” (Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change).

Another inspiring force is the students at Preshil striving for a better future. This inspiring force was vividly evident at Preshil recently when we witnessed the power of students to elicit social change. A key group of secondary students organised a petition mandating that their school endorse climate action. Their suggestion was that Preshil support students and staff to proactively participate in the climate action taking place on the last Friday of Term 3. In her email to the school community Marilyn wrote that support of such actions “represent the opportunity to do more than remain passively fearful in the face of the seeming inaction of those in power.” Similarly, a recent article seen on abc.net.au written by Chloe Adams, a middle-aged climate activist and mother of two declared that “inaction is an act of betrayal” committed against the future generations who will inherit the problems left by generations gone by. It is difficult not to have hope when fierce messages like this are permeating through the masses.

Passion and antagonisation for regenerative sustainability and climate action is felt strongly here at Preshil and sparked some deep introspection about what we are doing as a school to combat climate change. There are in fact a few exciting initiatives at Preshil stabilising a move towards holistic, embedded and aspirational regeneration and direct climate action.

We have invigorated our existing relationship with the ResourceSmart Schools program offered by Sustainability Victoria. The RSS program supports schools to embed sustainability across the school facilities, community and curriculum, while saving resources and money for the School. Through an online portal, schools learn and practise ways to integrate regeneration into all facets of school life. At this point, we are tracking our energy usage in order to collect baseline data that will inform our future initiatives and allow us to measure their success. Furthermore, regeneration has been recognised as a priority area needing to feature in the Strategic Plan. One of the first tasks we will undertake with RSS is to develop what Sustainability Victoria refers to as a SEMP (School Environment Management Plan). This document will provide a comprehensive and aspirational policy that underpins all regenerative sustainability initiatives at Preshil. Additionally, it will also play a role in instilling the school community with a sense of hope for our future.