Climate education Inspiration Opinion

Chai and change: thoughts on climate change education

A guest blog by Krithik Kaushik Vakil

While our world is engulfed in flames, a lot of us transform into modern Neroes —the Roman emperor infamous for sitting through a  burning Rome. We are desensitised to what we see in newspapers everyday. Climate denial and inaction are major problems, but we must not lose hope. There are still things we can do to make a difference, and climate change education plays a vital role in this.

I recently had the opportunity to experience climate education first hand with two environmental organisations working to help us protect and reconnect with nature. At one, our days would end with a cup of tea in our hand and reflection in our head. It was at this time that we had our most interesting conversations.

This article tries to follow that tradition. Alongside a cup of tea, I share my reflections from my internships and pass on the wisdom of two organisations that share my hopes for climate education.

Meet two inspiring climate educators

As a second year undergraduate Philosophy major at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, I had the opportunity to be part of field immersions through our interdisciplinary-course internships. Two of those organisations stood out to me: Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary and Sadhana Forest India.

The Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary conserves flora from the spellbinding Western Ghats, a hill range on India’s southwestern coastline. The Sanctuary restores its degraded ecosystems and shares the immense knowledge they gain from these activities through training, public outreach and a small school in the forest.

Sadhana Forest India advocates a different way of living with nature, one that is sustainable. In their own words, they do this “by engineering compassion” towards the forest. Much like the Sanctuary, they work towards conserving the indigenous plants of their region. This is part of their seva, a philanthropic initiative at their organisation.

Both organisations are working to create a more sustainable future. They offer valuable insights about the importance of biodiversity and show us how to live in harmony with nature.

Disconnected from nature

Think about the last time you walked with bare feet gripping the cool, placid soil. Or the last time you thought of the environmental cost before letting your debit card bear the insulated economic cost of a purchase.

One of the problems with that environmental cost is that its impact is too distant for you to care. Climate change’s unique characteristics pose a challenge for educators.

Scholarship on climate change education recognises that students face difficulty developing “an understanding of anthropogenic climate change”. That is, human-induced changes in our planetary systems. They argue this is because of four characteristics:

  • “invisible causes that generally do not directly impact human health or wellbeing;
  • distant impacts, both geographically and temporally;
  • delayed or absent gratification for taking action;
  • powerful self-interests.”

Our ‘disconnect’ exacerbates this distance.

I spoke to Jazz, one of the facilitators of Children’s Land, an unschooling program at Sadhana Forest India about this disconnect. He noted how an anthropocentric lens (one which takes humans as the most important element of existence) construes a false dichotomy between humans and nature —that we are somehow separate from it.

According to him, this apparent disconnect causes a false sense of scarcity, which gives birth to human greed and this greed leads to environmental destruction. “If I believe I am not separate [from nature]”, he said, “[causing climate change] is like punching myself in the face.”

Education must address this disconnect if it wants to create a generation who avoid the environmental pitfalls of human greed. As long as nature is viewed as separate, the call for climate action would ring only an empty sound in students’ ears. But, before we scour for solutions, we should ask: what causes this disconnect?

One answer could be that we are experientially impoverished.

“Climate change is being told to us. But what is our direct experience of it?”, Suprabha (warmly called Supi), a leading member of the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, asks.

From ancient times, human beings could ‘read’ the sky and tell you what the weather was going to be like. Now, we just read about it in the paper without using any of that nuanced weather-sensitivity and that’s the problem, Supi explains.

We think climate change, but we barely feel it. When we read “floods in Bangladesh”, how many of us know what it means to experience a flood in our lifetime?

So, nature is both conceptually and corporally disconnected from us. What do we do? How can we reconnect?

A date with the forest

The first step: love the forest. Let me illustrate.

One afternoon at the Sanctuary, my group was required to engage in a short solitary activity. Everyone had to choose a spot to sit for the next hour. It was like a date with the forest.

I sat near an open grazing field and started meditating on everything in my sensory experience: a harmony of birdsongs, the touch of the ground beneath, and the forest’s silent serene heartbeat. This experience, and several others like it, allowed me to realise a home in nature, a home I have not been to often. A feeling that the forest had been my home all along seamlessly attached itself to my consciousness.

Seeing the forest in this way, I experienced the realness of climate change’s impacts. Even without bearing witness to any major climate catastrophes, living in the forest gave rise to imaginations and anxieties of losing it to the waves of global warming. Thus, breaking the conceptual disconnect. While the experiences of connection (similar to Tsaheylu in Avatar) mentioned above, broke the corporal disconnect.

This reconnection nourished my love towards the forest, an essential step for Supi’s conservation approach. Supi differentiated between two approaches. The knowledge-approach where you know the forest, using theories and concepts, before you conserve it. And, the love-approach, taken by the Sanctuary, where you love the forest before you conserve it.

The key to resolving the disconnect, with nature and its abstract sufferings, could be employing our sensory experience and kindling love through climate change education. Our body could be our pedagogical tool and our experience our teacher. And then, maybe, we’ll stop punching our faces so much!

Unschooling with love

The second step: love the child. Unconditional love, which is the basis for unschooling for Jazz, should also be the basis for any climate change education.

To conjure an image of a love that is unconditional, imagine a toddler trying to find her balance and falling yet again. And she does it with that buoyant giggle, sometimes accompanied by drool. We can’t help but throw a huge smile at this animated little creature. No matter what, drools or diapers, we love her.

Supi, who believes that good qualities are innate in every child, answers why this form of love is important. Education’s job, according to her, is not to inject knowledge and virtues into the child but to “draw these [qualities] out of youngsters: to draw out thinking, to draw out perception, to draw out reasoning, to draw out aesthetics” and so on.

Our perspective of education depends on our beliefs. Jazz asks: “Do I believe the child is naturally capable of finding its own way into this complex crazy amazing world? Or do I believe that it is by nature inadequate and I have to fill it up with knowledge— because if I leave the child on its own, it will just play, learn nothing, be lazy, and become a criminal?”

Both these ideas suggest a gentler approach to the child. The importance of gentleness is highlighted in what Jazz often repeats, “grass doesn’t grow by pulling on it.”

Grass doesn’t grow by pulling on it

It is also important to be gentle at times when climate anxiety haunts so many. Climate change has been famous for precipitating fatigue, free of charge. This is also why so many want to deny climate change— because acceptance is hard. Embracing love adds lenity to our education. It allows the child to face and accept climate change without being overwhelmed.

A corollary of Jazz’s repeated saying would be: it is the anxiety that grows by pulling on it. That’s why we need to love the student unconditionally. No matter what (drool and diapers).

Before the chai gets cold

Before the chai gets cold and the climate gets even hotter, let me wind up my thoughts. My time with these two organisations helped me to capture a reality that evades so many of us. A reality where it is easier to feel apathy towards the climate’s distress than to feel compassion. A reality where our disconnected lives create a bubble around us, making us forget the sweet blue planet we happen to live on. Now, in order to secure the latter, we must burst that bubble, but we must do it as gently as a ripple which breaks the water’s silence.


I thank Supi (Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary) and Jazz (Sadhana Forest India) for their cooperation in my research and for their larger efforts towards sustainability.

This article would not have been possible without my university, Azim Premji University Bangalore, and their support. I would also like to thank Green Action ELT for this opportunity to support conversations about conservation and sustainability.

Last but not least, I have immense gratitude for my professor, supervisor and mentor, Sharoon Sunny. Your valuable feedback and useful insights have resulted in this article.


How to incorporate climate justice in the language classroom

A guest blog by Mariana Roccia

According to the World Bank, there will be around 200 million people who will be displaced due to climate change by 2050. As Goulah and Katunich highlight, this situation will unquestionably pose new challenges to the English language teaching (ELT) classroom, with more students having to learn English in often traumatic situations. With this scenario looming ahead, climate justice is a key element to include in the language classroom.

English language teachers have a key role in ensuring that students suffering from climate displacement adapt to their new community and new environments. But what is climate justice?

What is climate justice?

There are many definitions but, at its core, climate justice acknowledges that climate change is not only an environmental problem but a social and political issue as well.

Importantly, the environmental and climate crises were not created equally by everyone nor are their effects distributed equally. Climate justice is about acknowledging this imbalance and striving for not only an environmental action but also against discrimination, inequality and racism.

Environmental degradation, pollution, floods, fires and displacement disproportionately affect marginalised people and communities. Although climate change will impact everyone, it is impacting the poorest people, women, black people and people of colour and other underserved groups first and worst.

What’s more, many victims of climate change have contributed little or nothing to the problem. North America and Europe have released almost half of all cumulative emissions. Whereas the entire continent of Africa has contributed just 3%, for example.

These layers make climate justice a necessary but a complex topic to approach in the language classroom.

The Six Pillars for Climate Justice

The Six Pillars for Climate Justice break down the concept into key areas that can help us address the multidimensional complexity of the problem:

  1. Just transition
  2. Social, racial and environmental justice
  3. Indigenous climate action
  4. Community resilience and adaptation
  5. Natural climate solutions
  6. Climate education and engagement.

The sixth pillar, climate education and engagement, is particularly useful for language teachers. It emphasises that examining the roots of the cause will give us a better understanding of why we need to consume less, why we need to repurpose, reduce and generally rethink our lifestyles.

The Center for Climate Justice highlights that:

We need education not only based on climate science but also on the ways in which climate change is deeply intertwined with a range of other social, racial and environmental issues that define our daily lived experiences.”

For social change to actually happen, we need to combine efforts with other disciplines and language learning is not exempt from this task.

Why is climate justice relevant to language teaching?

There are deep historical connections between the inequalities people experience and the use of language, particularly the English language, and how it has been used to promote often aspirational and unsustainable values. For indigenous peoples, climate change is arguably a continuation of colonialism – a claim that has also been raised in the latest IPCC report.

Developing students’ understanding of these cause-and-effect connections that affect people around the world is just one of the aspects to focus on the language classroom to raise awareness of climate justice.  But this task requires working alongside other disciplines such as geography, science, and history.

To engage students and teach them the importance of cross-disciplinary collaborations, consider teaming up with other teachers for projects and involve students in decision making as much as possible.  

Incorporating climate justice in the classroom

One way to actively include climate justice in the classroom is by developing eco-critical language awareness (Eco-CLA). This means focusing on values of social justice and having explicit conversations about power relationships and language in the classroom.

Ecolinguistics can also help in emphasising how these relationships impact broader ecosystems by looking at how specific patterns of language can reinforce harmful environmental practices but also promote positive alternative stories.

Marco Micalay-Hurtado and Robert Poole outline five principles for eco-critical language awareness that can be applied to the language classroom:

Eco-CLA presents learning as bound to the physical world and its many human and nonhuman animal inhabitants.

Failing to acknowledge how deeply connected we are with nature has led us to this environmental crisis. Humans and nature are not two separate things.

Eco-CLA promotes wellbeing and sustainability as common sense.

Schools play a crucial role in developing students’ worldviews and promoting values that later become the norm. Therefore, teachers have a role guiding students in identifying damaging narratives and giving them the tools to challenge them.

Eco-CLA promotes the development of ecological consciousness by engaging students in localised sustainable thinking.

Make it about them, not you. This principle focuses on engaging with students in creative ways that invite them to reflect on their local sustainability issues, their communities and lived experiences and how climate change is affecting them.

Working and engaging with the local community is at the core of the Six Pillars for Climate Justice since solutions can arise from these interactions. Field work and collaborative ways with their communities is more relevant to the students than working with instructional materials that reflect little on their reality.

Eco-CLA advocates for students negatively affected by climate change, especially for students from marginalised communities.

This principle draws attention to exploring the intersection of social justice, environmental action and political engagement. Highlighting unsustainable practices and exposing power relationships that promote cultural and linguistic imperialism are one of the crucial elements for developing students’ advocacy.

A pedagogical application of eco-CLA promotes language instruction that presents multiple English varieties as equal.

By teaching “englishes” (plural and uncapitalised) teachers will be encouraging students to develop diverse anglophone identities and will be less likely to incorporate unsustainable practices attached to historically standardised English varieties. This is another opportunity for teachers not to be part of the linguistic imperialism issue by incorporating other types of varieties to their classroom.

Climate justice is not a straightforward item to include in the classroom. It has multiple layers and can be a complex and divisive topic. Be critical of what to include in the lesson plan and engage colleagues, students and members of the community as much as possible. Remember that involvement is crucial for supporting climate justice both at academic and civic levels and enabling social change.

Learn more

There are many resources freely accessible online. Here’s a list of some useful sites:

Watch Mariana’s presentation on climate justice for Green Action ELT in January 2023 below or view our full webinar library.

Events Opinion

The Green Action ELT Forum 2023

This year we held the second Green Action ELT Forum. Directors, teachers, managers and students joined us from language schools, universities and awarding bodies. Most based in the UK, but many tuned in from around the world too.

Discussing broad questions about environmental action in the language teaching sector felt like a conversation full of opposites. We noted both the power and limitations of small, cumulative steps; discussed the importance of leadership ‘from above’, but also the need for pressure ‘from below’ to demand that action; and recognised growing awareness and acceptance of the climate crisis, but many also saw a lack of action across the sector.

Yet, what seems like contradiction and conflict may actually reflect the route forward for our sector and beyond.

Environmental interest has grown, but is it still growing?

There was agreement among forum delegates that interest in environmental action has grown. Environmental concern is no longer a fringe topic, there is greater acceptance that we are in a climate crisis and wider recognition that it is a problem we need to address.

More schools have green policies, more industry events include environmental content, and there are more lessons plans for a growing number of teachers who want to engage their students with the biggest challenge of our time. Interest has increased in all walks of life, and the language teaching sector is no different.

Yet, while interest has grown, is it still growing?

The good news was diluted by the feeling that action has plateaued, stopped or even slipped backwards. Together we reflected on the spike of interest during the pandemic when, without students, many of us had extra time and space to think about longer term issues like the climate and environmental crisis.

But now that borders have reopened and students are returning to our classrooms and summer camps, attention has turned back to day to day business. Instead of creating a ‘new normal’ where environmental responsibility is considered alongside sales, we’ve returned to a solely short-term and narrow idea of success.

And it’s not just schools. Delegates noted that Eaquals trialled a Green Stars scheme that seems to have ended, English UK published an ambitious environmental plan but no action has been taken and, in the past 12 months, it looks like only one article has covered environmental action in StudyTravel Magazine.

It seems for many, environmental interest was short lived. And now a lack of free time or ‘slack resources’ is working against environmental action in ELT.

Sprigs of hope and pockets of action

If the momentum has been lost, how do we find it again? First, we can recognise and celebrate what is happening.

Delegates at the forum reported all sorts of changes at their language schools and organisations. From installing sensor lights and cutting single use plastics, to writing environmental policies and supporting local environmental projects. The group had big plans too, like converting parking spaces into outdoor student seating or becoming the greenest provider in their area.

Even one of our biggest environmental challenges, reliance on aviation, may be showing the first signs of change. Several schools reported more European students choosing to travel by train, including a group travelling from Switzerland to Norwich and young siblings travelling by Eurostar to London, where they’ll be met by ECS staff.

These are promising steps and the group agreed that we need to take heart and keep chipping away at the problem bit by bit.

Personal to professional to systemic change

However, although forum delegates agreed that encouraging small steps is important, many also found this approach frustratingly little.

Most of us in the room had taken the step from individual to organisational action, expanding the reach of our commitment from personal habits to working practice at our schools and organisations.

But the scale and urgency of this crisis means we need more widespread and impactful change across our whole sector. We not only need dedicated directors and teachers, but also publishers reviewing their content through a green lens; associations putting environmental responsibility on the agenda for their members; and sustainability included in inspections.

It seems then, that the way forward is clear but reaching it remains a challenge. Several delegates suggested that the British Council is unlikely to change their inspection criteria without pressure from its members. Happily, the Council is conducting a member-wide consultation on the Accreditation UK scheme this year. An opportunity we’ve seized by encouraging members to include a call for environmental criteria.

Introducing the first criteria relating to environmental responsibility would be a great step towards systemic change in the sector. At the forum, delegates recounted how lobbying led to new safeguarding laws. These in turn shaped inspection criteria and normalised safeguarding requirements in every school just 20 years ago. Sustainability could follow a similar route.

The impact of change of this kind would be invaluable. And the first ever inclusion of environment in Accreditation UK would be a great achievement. But even if our campaign for greener inspection criteria is successful, it’s likely that any environmental requirements would be limited (in order to be applicable to all schools and within the expertise of inspectors).

So we still need to push for more; collectively shifting the culture of our sector and communities. At Green Action ELT we are working on a structured set of commitments to help guide action. And for language schools looking for environmental accreditation, there’s Green Standard Schools.

Everything, everywhere, all at once

It may seem like our discussion was full of conflicts and contradictions, but the 2023 Green Action ELT forum reflected something crucial: that we need change in all areas at once.

We are in a defining moment. Our action this decade will shape our world. And, with risk escalating wildly with every fraction of warming, change has never been more urgent. But there is no one person, organisation or measure that can drive the change we need to see. We need it all.

We need to do everything we can and we need to be ambitious.

What’s more, we need to talk about it. The group discussed the importance of sharing our actions and how it can help normalise environmental considerations and inspire others. While some delegates added that more talk doesn’t mean more action, others felt that awareness always leads to action.

Whether you have the reach of an international chain or association, a small family business or classroom, you have the opportunity to make and advocate for change across our sector.

As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said: “Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

Campaigning and lobbying

Join our campaign for greener inspection criteria

Every four years, the British Council refreshes their inspection criteria for English language teaching centres in the UK. This year, for the first time, they are inviting input from all accredited members. Let’s push for the first ever inclusion of environmental action and responsibility in the Accreditation UK scheme.

We are suggesting two new management criteria:

• Accredited language centres have an environmental policy;
• Any marketing claims made to environmental commitments should be accurate and supported by evidence.

If you agree and you are participating in the survey, use our suggested text below in your submission.

The first requirement will help embed environmental responsibility across our sector, while acknowledging that different centres are at different stages in their response. Putting an environmental policy in place will give all types of language centre the chance to consider what steps they can reasonably take to reduce their negative impact.

The second offers important protection against greenwashing – falsely marketing a language school as ‘greener’ than it is. As customers are increasingly prioritising sustainable businesses, we must ensure our sector communicates honestly about environmental action in marketing and publicity.

These new criteria will help give our sector’s environmental impact the status it needs.

Together they not only acknowledge the environmental crisis but also set the foundation for action, helping to prepare our sector for change, potential new regulation as the government moves to meet climate change commitments, as well as protecting students against false advertising.

If your school is recognised by Accredited UK, we encourage you to include a call for these two new environmental criteria when you complete the survey. We have included suggested text and sections for submission below.

This is the perfect opportunity to push for real change in our sector. So please share this call to action across your networks! #GreenELT

Suggested text

Strategic and quality management M1-M7 section:

Our organisation believes that the scheme should require accredited language centres to have an environmental policy in order to embed environmental responsibility across our sector.

Publicity M22-M29 section:

Our organisation believes that the scheme should require that any marketing claims made by accredited language centres with regards to environment commitments are accurate and supported by evidence to prevent greenwashing.


Join us for practical tips and discussion on Earth Day

We are pleased to present two sessions at the environment-focused English UK ELT Conference on Thursday 22 April – join us on the free teachers’ day for practical tips, discussion, Q&As and to support our green ELT movement.

> Register for the free ELT Conference teachers’ day (via English UK)

In the morning, join ELTSustainable’s Owain Llewellyn and colleagues, who will share practical tips on including sustainability in everyday teaching. In the afternoon we’ll take a wider look at why and how we can create a greener ELT sector with ELT Footprint UK founder Chris Etchells. View our events page for more details.

Everyone is welcome! So please invite your colleagues and join the conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

We look forward to you joining us again soon!

Big picture

The time is now: why UK ELT needs a green transformation

The idea of prioritising climate action may feel like one task too many right now. But the climate crisis isn’t a remote event but a reality we are already seeing in extreme storms, fires, floods, displacement and loss around the world. The time is now. And English language teaching must act and help address climate change.

What’s more, the current upheaval gives us an opportunity to shape what comes next. We don’t want to ‘go back to normal’ if it led us into environmental destruction, a pandemic and climate crisis.

Instead we can seize this moment of change to build new ways of working and living that are sustainable, fairer and safer for everyone.

2020 – a historic moment and an opportunity

Covid-19 has badly hurt UK ELT, taken far too many lives and many fear for their jobs and homes. But it has also shown us we that we can dramatically change how we work, relax and travel to save lives and protect our communities. It may have even given us a glimpse of the way forward.

We have seen the inequalities and suffering we want to avoid; realised the essential services, from shop workers to bus drivers to nurses, that we must strengthen and support; we have glimpsed roads turned in to safe spaces for exercise and play; been delighted by the wildlife wandering back into our quieter world (the Llandudno goats were a favourite!); and covid has reminded us of our vulnerability to natural disasters.

Those who have been lucky enough to be able to enjoy time off through furlough or mothballed businesses, had the opportunity to reflect on life’s direction and priorities. To imagine a better future with more free time, less travel, more flexible working and slower living.

Now we have a better idea of what we have to lose and to gain. And we have seen the change we are capable of. So let’s take action to create a better world and help our industry come out of the Covid-19 crisis on the right side of history. The time is now.

Plus – many of the actions necessary to limit climate change will also help prevent the emergence and spread of diseases and novel viruses.

The problems we face are interconnected

Hundreds of thousands live in poverty, food bank use has increased by 74% in five years (and that’s before coronavirus), hate crimes have doubled, the NHS is struggling and the country is politically divided. Shouldn’t we address these problems first?

We absolutely must address these issues. And we must tackle them together with climate action.

When we talk about the effects of climate change, we are talking about disasters that hurt and endanger people. We want to protect each other from suffering, save people’s homes and livelihoods. And these goals cannot ignore inequalities and injustice. Especially when climate change disproportionately affects poor people, marginalised people and people of colour.

We need to look for multi-issue solutions and holistic system change to create a better, greener world for everyone.

We face many challenge and the time to address them is now. Take a look at our tips and green guides to help you begin (or continue!) improving your environmental impact. And please share your environmental activities, ideas and challenges with us on Twitter and Linked In – we must speak up and prioritise #GreenELT.