Inspiration Opinion

Three reactions to the climate crisis

Scientists say the climate is reacting more quickly and more violently than expected. And that’s just the one degree of global warning that is currently baked into the system. We are on track for 2.5C and maybe more.

But why should we care?

I’m not suggesting you don’t care. Presumably at an individual level we all feel concern for the younger people in our lives who will have to face whatever the future holds.

But why should we care as providers of often short-term English language courses? Courses that, because most pupils travel by plane to us here in the UK, have very high emissions.

In recent years, we’ve not only experienced a pandemic, but massive wildfires in Australia and the USA. Droughts and heatwaves have been affecting every part of the planet. Floods in West Africa and Pakistan have displaced millions of people. Heat records were broken all over the UK in summer 2022. We saw catastrophic flooding in Germany and unbearable temperatures in Athens, Madrid and Rome.

If the crisis felt remote before, there’s no way we can pretend it’s not our problem now. And, as we all know, our emissions are helping to create and intensify the problem.

So what should language centres do? It seems there are three possible reactions to the situation:

  • One: shut up our schools, the flight emissions are just too high.
  • Two: carry on as before, it’s a losing battle and we can’t make a difference anyway.
  • Three: transform our schools in response to a changing world and as part of shaping a better future.

Three reactions

Close up shop

So what now? Things are bad and set to get worse. But what should a junior summer school like mine do about it?

I find myself in a contradictory position. On one hand I am helping encourage organisations to reduce their emissions through Green Action ELT. At the same time, I’m trying to drum up business for our summer school, knowing most pupils will fly.

It’s not a comfortable position. Should I pack up my bags and find something else to do?

While this reaction may absolve us of personal responsibility, children will still come to the UK to learn English. And, if they don’t visit my school, they’ll go somewhere else. Perhaps to a school that doesn’t discuss environmental topics in the classroom or try to reduce waste and energy use in the way that we do.

Carry on as before

Or perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much, and just get on with things.

Carry on ‘business as usual’ because we’re just one school and can’t do much about global problems anyway. Maybe it’s easier not to acknowledge the problem, or at least our part in it. Besides, we don’t want to risk putting pupils off; we don’t want to kill the goose laying the golden egg.

The problem with that position is that it isn’t very moral. And it’s short-sighted.

Are we happy taking money from parents with the promise that we are preparing their children for the future, while in the process helping putting at risk the very future that we say we are preparing them for?

While we may be losing the battle to keep global warming to 1.5C, every fraction of a degree above that will be counted in greater human misery and lives lost. Which means everything we do to cut emissions will help reduce suffering. We are morally obliged to do what we can.

Prioritising profit now over a liveable planet later, may not be good business in any case. Why are so many brands and products shouting out their commitments to carbon neutrality and a clean, green planet? They know shoppers and staff care. Whether they’re pushed to act or lie about action, they are responding to changing pressures and priorities. People, especially young people, care about sustainability.

And we can apply the same logic to our courses.

Time for transformation

So, scrapping closing the school and carrying on regardless, our third option is: do something. Respond to the situation and try to reduce our emissions as far as we possibly can.

It the right thing to do. We are facing a crisis that is already taking lives, and we must act.

Action gives us agency in a rapidly changing and often scary situation. It gives us a chance to reshape our lives, schools and communities to address other problems, like inequality, that are so entangled with the climate crisis.

It is also means responding to a topic that is increasingly important to our pupils and their families.

So where do we start?

Responses in the sector span a continuum. At one end we see superficial changes – recycling and quitting plastic cups, say. Really just tinkering around the edges and risking the charge of greenwashing if the impact of these actions is overemphasised. At the other end, organisations are examining every part of their operation to find ways to reduce emissions and use their position for positive change.

As the Green ELT movement grows, we must be careful to fall on the impactful end of the spectrum. To start with, if you have not already done so, write an environmental policy. Get together as a team and find colleagues who can lead and maintain the momentum of your environmental efforts.

Do everything you can, from food to fuel, classroom to conference.

Take action.

Adapted from a talk at the Young Learners English UK AGM 2022
Policy and strategy

English UK publishes environmental action plan

English UK is the national association of English Language centres in the UK. The association has just published an environmental action plan for UK ELT. Acknowledging the urgency of the climate and ecological emergency, the plan aims to ’embed sustainability into practice, from classroom to canteen to conference’.

“Green UK ELT will help students understand interdependence and sustainability, experience the natural world and feel empowered to address the biodiversity and climate crises. English UK will lead by example through thoughtful and ambitious action. We will focus on working together, positive campaigning and collective action.”

This is a hugely positive and hopeful document, one that promises to fully embed environmental responsibility into UK ELT. Congratulations English UK!

Read Turning green: an environmental action plan for the UK ELT sector here.

Inspiration Resources


Earthrise – the poem by Amanda Gorman – feels peculiarly relevant to COP26, both inside and outside the venue. Here is an excerpt, and a link to a new teaching resource I’ve created specially for COP26. I hope you and your students will enjoy it.

‘To see it, close your eyes.
Visualize that all of us in this room
and outside of these walls or in the halls, all
of us changemakers are in a spacecraft,
Floating like a silver raft
in space, and we see the face of our planet anew.
We relish the view;
We witness its round green and brilliant blue,
Which inspires us to ask deeply, wholly:
What can we do?
Open your eyes.
Know that the future of
this wise planet
Lies right in sight:
Right in all of us. Trust
this earth uprising.
All of us bring light to exciting solutions never tried before
For it is our hope that implores us, at our uncompromising core, 
To keep rising up for an earth more than worth fighting for.’

Campaigning and lobbying

Act Now

Today is Friday and for many young people around the world that means Fridays for Future, the youth movement started by a young girl sitting alone outside the Swedish parliament.

Greta was soon joined by others and today let’s celebrate youth activists at COP 26 and everywhere who have courageously stepped up to hold their elders to account for the future of the planet: people like Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Dominika Lasota and Vanessa Nakate.

You can support them right now by joining the nearly 1.7 million people who have signed their Emergency Appeal for Climate Action.

But don’t stop there! You can make changes in your daily life that, multiplied by millions of other people, will add up to a huge difference. You can also help influence your family, your school, your community or – like ELT Footprint UK – your profession.

As Greta says, “As citizens across the planet, we urge you to face up to the climate emergency. Not next year. Not next month. Now”


We are Watching

As COP26 enters another day, there has already been an agreement by over 100 countries to reduce methane emissions, an international agreement on deforestation that includes Brazil and Russia and $8.5 billion dollars to help South Africa – a major emitter of greenhouse gases – end its reliance on coal. Over 40 world leaders have also pledged to fund clean technology around the world. And India came forward with a promise to reach net zero by 2070 – 20 years too late but still a big step forward.

The methane agreement looks particularly promising as rapid reductions in production of this potent greenhouse gas could have an almost immediate effect on global warming.

But we have been here before and grand words have failed to meet their full promise: see Climate Tracker. Greta Thunberg calls this “blah, blah, blah” and she is often right – for example she was one of the first to call out the UK for not counting the greenhouse gases it produces from international aviation, shipping and imports. Already the UK’s COP26 promise to become the world’s first net zero finance centre looks wishy washy without being enshrined in law.

But if we are to address the Earth emergency there really is no alternative to global meetings, agreements and government actions. And it is getting easier to hold countries to account on their promises: big data from satellites for example can now show us immediately where methane is being emitted and forest are being cleared.

The British Prime Minister left COP26 expressing ‘cautious optimism’ to the outcome of the meeting. Maybe he believes his own words, but the UK can hardly expect to be counted a world leader on climate change or lecture others when it reduces tariffs on domestic flights and prevaricates on new coal mines and oil fields. Still, if populist leaders really do see the need to catch up with public opinion – and can be held to account – that might be a good thing.

Whatever the outcome of COP26 we will all continue to do what we can in our own lives, communities and professional spheres of influence. And we will all be watching. Expectations have been raised and governments will fail to meet them at their peril. 


Music for COP26

Day 1 of COP26 and we have heard some impressive opening statements. And though words are important, we – all of us watching now, as well as future generations – will judge our leaders by their actions, not by their words.

Bolovian President Lui Arce said that developed nations are “just biding their time without facing any sense of responsibility toward humanity or towards Mother Earth.” 

“Their credibility is at peril,” he said. “The developed countries are coming up with speeches that portray them as champions to combat climate change and to address emissions by 2050, but this is far from being the truth.” So we wait, wish them well and will hold them to account.

Meanwhile, in hope rather more than expectation, here is some environmentally themed music from the excellent Outrage and Optimism podcasts. Enjoy!

Something’s about to change
WACO – A New Future
Palmaria – Ocean
Hoping – Elle L
Rachel Sermanni- What Can I Do
Emily Barker – The Woman Who Planted Trees
Aaron Frazer – Bad News
Justice (Calm Down II)
Midnight Masquerade – Asher Monroe
Milky Chance – We Didn’t Make It To The Moon
Guster – Satellite
Eliza Shaddad – Blossom
Easy Wanderlings – Dream To Keep Us Going
Politics Resources

COP 26

Today is the start of COP26, the annual UN Climate Change Conference running for the next fortnight in Glasgow, Scotland.

This is a significant moment in history and we will be following the proceedings closely here on ELT Footprint UK.

There are many excellent COP26 teaching resources for educators wanting to talk about the Earth emergency, for example:

For more general information, especially on solutions to climate change, see TED Countdown

See also my personal favourite way of staying up to date with the issues: the wonderful podcasts from Outrage and Optimism

And if you know of additional resources you’d like to recommend to readers of this post, please leave your comments below.


Young people worried

More evidence – from 10 different countries – if it was needed – that young people are worried about climate change.



“It is unequivocal”

The latest IPCC report confirms what we already know. The climate crisis is caused by human activities and is affecting every corner of the planet’s land, air and sea already.

So we all need to act now to achieve net zero.

Follow the science and the advice at ELT Fooprint UK to do what you can to help in the crucial global effort to achieve net zero.

Finance and money

The Cost of Green ELT

Can we afford to do what we should at a time when our profession / industry is being squeezed by Covid? How much does it all cost to go green in ELT?

The short answer is, many of the actions we should be taking will actually save us money. So we have good business reasons for joining the #GreenELT movement and doing what we know is right.

More here.