I'll start with the story of the three little pigs. Surely you remember the fable of this wonderful story or the great animated movie of Walt Disney. Just in case, here it is briefly: the big bad wolf (climate change) wants to eat the pigs. They build houses (adaptation measures) to protect themselves from the wolf. One pig builds a house of straw, the second a house of sticks and the third a house of bricks (different level and price of implementation of adaptive measures). The three pigs feel safe in their homes and sing one of the most beautiful songs for children: “Who is afraid of the big bad wolf? They didn’t give three figs..." They took (climate) action and now they are happy, confident, not afraid anymore... Let me continue with the original version of the story. The wolf blows down the straw house and eats the first pig. Then it huffs and puffs into the house made of sticks, blows it down and eats the second pig. The third, the brick house resists all attempts by the wolf to blow it down. Still, the wolf doesn’t give up easily, plays various tricks on the pig to get it out of the house and eat it. But the pig is smarter than the wolf and doesn't come out. Eventually the wolf "gets an idea" and tries to enter the house through the chimney, but falls into the cauldron with boiling water previously placed on the fireplace by the pig (another action). The pig covers the wolf with a lid, boils and eats it... And here the story ends. Unfortunately, the end is not happy for everyone, there is no "and everyone lived happily ever after" ending, which we see in later adaptations of this fable. In this original version there is only one winner, everyone else is at loss...
What is the difference between the various solutions and what happened to education? All pigs are aware of the danger, they recognize it, they know they have to do something about it, they take action... But there is a big difference that only education and science can make. The first two pigs are not well educated, they do not know the wolf well enough, they have not studied it, they do not know how strong and powerful it is, and what it can do. They believe that they are safe by taking any action, that they should not pay much time and effort to examining and studying the problem. There is no need to spend more money, waste time and energy… it is written on the Internet, everyone says that the right solution is a house... Unfortunately, their action is inappropriate, it can't protect them and they lose the battle. The third pig, on the other hand, knows exactly what the dimensions of the problem are, takes successful action and wins (many will say "or was just lucky" in our wonderful country of sports betting houses).
Education is probably the key factor that can contribute to a proper understanding of the problem of climate change, its proper mitigation and taking appropriate adjustment measures. I will use the results of a Public Climate Change Perception and Awareness Level Survey conducted in 2019 by the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning as part of the preparation of the Third Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (Climate Change Perception and Awareness Level: An online research among citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia, 2019). According to the report, the survey found that respondents detected climate change as the third most serious threat to society (after crime and corruption and lack of clean water). As many as 92.2% of respondents believe that they are informed about the various impacts and consequences of climate change (51.9% well informed and 40.3% informed to some extent). It is clear that public awareness has developed and almost all of us are aware that the problem exists. In terms of the most visible consequences of climate change, respondents mostly recognize extreme temperatures and irregularities in changing seasons and precipitation. The report goes on to say that citizens still do not have enough knowledge about climate change adaptation. Further efforts and attention are needed to promote best practices for adaptation and to support the development of specific adaptation measures. The last detail I will convey from this report, which worries me personally, is that "the best way to share information remain the Internet and social networks". These are the same sources that provide much details about the Harp system effects on the emergence of extreme meteorological phenomena and on our behavior, analyze with precision the disadvantages of 5G technology and its relevance in the COVID-19 pandemic and present "serious scientific evidence" that the planet is flat. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against this trend, but it's important for the reader to be able to tell the difference between what is true, what is manipulation and what is mocking (or satire, as those more learned than I would say). I find optimism in those 12.7% of respondents who receive information through reports and studies, or 7.9% who read specialized magazines.
The role of education is to allow the transition from climate change as a recognized problem into an understood, scientifically-based, tamed and (if the planet is lucky) resolved problem. The first time I mentioned education was in connection with science because I strongly believe that quality education should be based on science. I have been working in the field of education for 35 years. I work by feeling, by applying good practices that I have seen, tested in practice, transferred from other universities... Hence, the discussion that follows is only my personal opinion. Science must have the final word in how to approach introduction of educational content in the formal education system.
When should education on climate change begin? In my opinion, as early as possible. Before embarking on this type of education, we must purify education from all the "conditioned untruths" that we unconsciously spread. That our homeland is rich in forests, waters, fertile soils and ideal conditions for agriculture... As if it was a maiden with a bountiful dowry, and I was the boy from that Balasevic's song, who wants to get rich overnight and marries the girl because of her riches. No, a homeland is loved for other reasons, with and without dowry, as it is simply homeland. If you think that I may be trying to deceive you when I say that we are not naturally rich, just keep in mind that the density of forests in the Republic of North Macedonia is only 77.3 m3/ha, while Switzerland and Slovenia have as much as 350 m3/ha i.e. 5 of their hectares for 1 of ours. Only 6 countries in Europe have less forest density than us, you can find out more here. Concerns water, we have a bit more than 700 mm of rainfall per year. This quantity is not so little and we have enough water, but we need to take into account that the spatial and temporal distribution of precipitation is quite unfavorable. The largest quantities of precipitation occur in the high mountainous areas and during late autumn, winter and early spring, whereas in summer our fields suffer for water. To correct this "shortcoming", 37 larger artificial lakes have been built (24 dams and lakes of particular significance, 13 large dams and lakes), and together with the smaller reservoirs this number comes up to over 100. These reservoirs collect water in periods when there is surplus and they supply water in times of shortage. This means that we have invested in the development of water facilities and we have managed to overcome the natural anomaly in water supply, but it all comes at a cost. When it comes to soils, we predominantly do not have those deep, fertile soils that have excellent structure and excellent properties for agricultural production. In our country the alluvial soil is considered to be most fertile, which is actually deposited river sand and sludge. In agriculture, our yields are among the lowest in Europe, our farmers are struggling with adverse soil conditions, they have to irrigate most of the crops, yields are further reduced due to heat waves, pests and diseases, sunburn… I think we should first get rid of the misconception that we have everything, that our natural resources are unlimited, that we should not do anything to protect and promote them, that we will be rich forever... We shouldn’t be ashamed to say that our country does not have enough natural resources; forests, pastures and agricultural land have low productivity; for each of us there is only about 2500 m2 of arable land available to provide the necessary food; water is poorly distributed in space and time and largely polluted to the point of being unusable for multiple purposes; the quality of air is not satisfactory.
Once we understand all this we can move forward and introduce educative content that would show to young children that the climate is changing, that the lifestyle we have today may not be possible tomorrow, that the responsibility for the climate and the natural resources belongs to each of us equally. We are all responsible and we are all indebted. One of the most beautiful thoughts about the planet Earth is that "We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." Just over 200 years have passed from the industrial revolution till today. How much is that in generations?? Probably 7 or 8 generations before ours. These generations have not consciously contributed to the emergence of global warming. They are not the only ones who have sinned in their ignorance. Maybe we are wrong about the many things we believe are right today, that we are on the right path... Is it okay if we behave the same way our ancestors did a hundred years ago? Simply continue with the same attitude and the same but intensified (mis)use of resources and technologies in the race for profits, although we are aware that the big bad wolf is getting stronger and more evil? That is why it is essential to change the perception among young people of the world that surrounds them. The next generations must be, above all, environmentally educated as we "succeeded" in degrading and disfiguring what we borrowed from them, and even worse, in portraying this deed as irrelevant. Moreover we will return what we borrowed in a form that is almost useless. Apologies my child, but it had to be done. It's not just the climate, it's the soil, the waters, the air... Sometimes I wonder if they would succeed at all in regenerating the planet.
I believe that education on climate change should start at an early age and be continuous throughout the education system. I also believe that the issue of climate change must be integrated into every discipline and subject that is studied. Don’t ponder on how it would be integrated into the different subjects. There are experts in the field who know how to do that as climate change is part of our everyday life. This, of course, should not exclude the existence of a special subject dedicated exclusively to climate change. Let me remind you that the pigs that got eaten were aware of the problem, but they were not acquainted with it well enough. I believe that this subject should be available at all levels of education, from primary school to doctoral studies. Faculty of Climate Change? Climate Change Research Center? Why not. Of course, in line with a labor market analysis that indicates the need for such highly educated staff.
There are plenty of slogans about the power of education. I will not repeat or paraphrase any of them as from education I expect only results. What I would like to see is a changed perception in all of us. Why? Because we still pinpoint climate change as something different, something special. Instead, it should be something ordinary, common... Why not consider climate change as climate, adjustment measures as normal practices, clean development as just development? Why give these so essential issues special descriptors??? Why not use the descriptors in a different context? Let's say dirty development, previous practices, non-adaptable technologies, the climate of the past... And that exactly is the power of education - to create new generations that will be "more resilient" to climate change. Generations that will be aware of the problem and, at the same time, able to live with it, to fight it and smart enough to resolve it in a reasonable time.
Author Prof. Ordan Chukaliev