Rosemount and Model pupils lead by example as COP26 takes place

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The world’s leaders are currently struggling with their response to global warming at the COP26 conference.

These problems are a result of the consequences of the industrial revolution. Fundamentally the world leaders meeting in Glasgow will have to find ways of reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions or the phenomenon is in danger of accelerating beyond control. They must also find a way to alleviate those most affected people in the developing world.

To a large extent in Ireland we have not been aware of any dramatic climatic problems. But this year alone floods in Germany and wildfires in California and Australia have been linked to Global Warming. It is the developing world that has been most affected. One example is the Sahel region in Africa where changing weather patterns has led to the expansion of the Sahara driving people from their homes . Floods will devastate Bangladesh and some Pacific islands may disappear completely.

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Greta Thunberg led the way with her campaign to shock politicians into action. Not surprisingly she is sceptical about the results of COP26. However, it is the young who will witness the effects of any inaction on the part of politicians. In the past few weeks I have been working in two local schools, the Model and Rosemount Primary. They have no say as yet in solutions such as the greening of electricity production or the introduction of electric vehicles but they have already begun to engage with the problems in their schools.

One of the most important things they can do is learn about their environment. Knowledge is the key to the solution of any problem. A love of nature is also essential if we seek to preserve it. In both schools we have conducted surveys of the bird species and numbers around their school and in nearby Brooke Park. This basic statistical analysis is the same as those done by scientists seeking to see the scale of species decline.

For a number of years both schools have worked at their school gardens growing potatoes and other vegetables. Home grown vegetables lack pesticides and chemical fertiliser. Eating vegetables close to where they are grown reduces the levels of CO2 caused by transporting them. There is great satisfaction and fun in growing your own food.

As Seamus Heaney says in his poem ‘Digging’ where he talks about childhood memories of his father digging spuds:

‘He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.’

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In his book ‘Silent Earth Averting the Insect Apocalypse’ Dave Goulson outlines research indicating that the numbers of flying insects in Europe have reduced by 76%. We rely on insect pollinators for 70% of the food we eat. He recommends the planting of fruit trees to help reverse this trend. Past pupils of the schools have helped with the establishing orchards. The trees flower in spring and attract many pollinating insects- a small contribution to averting insect Armageddon.

Both schools are blessed with a great variety of trees and are close to Brooke Park. The park has a great collection of trees both native and more exotic. The park opened to the public in 1901. A hundred years before that in 1804 William Blake wrote Jerusalem with the prophetic line ‘the dark satanic mills’ which foresaw the problems the industrial revolution would create for many generations afterwards. In 1901 Derry had been for a long time a place of ‘dark satanic mills’ . Numerous factories,along with the local houses, pumped out a never ending pall of coal smoke.

Before the development of penicillin, tuberculosis was a feared killer much like our Covid 19 pandemic but in reality much worse. It was associated with ‘bad air’ . There was a requirement for space where the locals could avail of ‘fresh air’. The people who established Brooke Park were aware of one negative affect of the industrial revolution and took steps to ameliorate it. Rising temperatures as a result of burning fossil fuels for over two hundred years is the challenge we face in our time.

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The pupils from the schools were able to enjoy the park and its trees a century after it was originally opened. They have also planted their own trees in the school grounds. They are part a world wide movement to plant trees. Trees, like other plants ,absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide helping slow global warming.

The world’s leaders will have to find solutions to the problems caused by global warming and biodiversity destruction. At local level schools like The Model and Rosemount are making a significant, if small, contribution to the solution.