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Helping Children To Learn About The Climate Crisis: A Guest Piece by Catherine Ward

Floods, droughts, unseasonal temperatures, devasting storms. Our news headlines tell us that, all around the globe, the changing climate is causing problems for humans and nature alike. No longer rare, exceptional events which affect a relative few, climate change is starting to impact all of us. The Met Office has recently confirmed that 2022 was the hottest year on record for the UK and many regions of the country also experienced drought, after a very dry start to the year.

While, at first glance, a drier, warmer climate might seem appealing, scientists warn us that this is just the start, and the impact of climate change is already being felt more severely by many around the world. Failed harvests, lost homes, livelihoods destroyed.

Some of the data and the predictions around future climate change can be frightening. Often because we know it will be our children, grandchildren and future generations to come, who will feel the full force of the changing climate.

The subject can be overwhelming. Not just for us, but for our children who are often aware of this information too. Our response might be to try to protect our children by not talking about it. But if we are to give them hope for the future, we must face up to the challenges of a changing climate like any other emergency. With honesty, urgency, and action.

If we help our children to learn about the climate crisis, we can also take the opportunity to make a positive impact on their future. The more we, and they, understand the links between our cumulative actions and what is happening to the planet, the more we are empowered to bring about positive change.

We can look at our own lifestyles and ask, ‘What can we do differently?’. Understanding the impact of our food choices, the ways in which we travel, the products we consume, our use of energy, can help us to lower our own environmental impact. Remembering that, however we reduce our carbon footprints or spread the word about climate change, each seemingly small action adds up to cumulatively make a big, positive difference.

There are many ways we can help our children learn about the problems we face and, crucially, the solutions. This might be through television programmes, magazines, reputable websites, and books. Or through spending time in nature and talking about how important protecting the environment is. We might choose to adopt an endangered species or support an environmental charity.

As a geographer and keen nature lover, rainforests have long fascinated me. A topic covered frequently in schools, our children learn about these incredible habitats and the rich life found within them. Our children also learn that rainforests are shrinking fast. And with that shrinking, comes an increased threat to our global climate. Not only do the trees store vast amounts of carbon but also release billions of tonnes of water into the atmosphere, playing a critical role in local and global carbon and water cycles. Historically, more than 60% of the earth’s land was covered with trees. This figure has already fallen to less than 30%. The speed of global deforestation is so fast, that if it continues as its current rate, there will be no rainforests left in 100 years, further destabilising the climate.

We may not see the connection between our own actions and the destruction of the rainforests, but land is cleared for humans at a global level. To raise cattle for eating, to grow crops to feed cattle and humans, to produce timbre-based products. Understanding the supply chains for the things we buy really does matter.

I chose to write a picture book called ‘The Emerald Forest’, illustrated by Karin Littlewood, to help children learn about rainforests and orangutans. Found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, orangutans are extraordinary creatures, vital in the dispersal of seeds. If orangutans disappear, so will several species of tree. The story is set in Sumatra, a place which has lost over half its rainforests in the last thirty years.

When I was researching for the book, I came across an amazing project being undertaken by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and The Orangutan Project who have formed a company to manage 100,000 acres of forest bordering the Thirty Hills (Bukit Tigapuluh) National Park. Formed in 2015, they have a sixty-year challenge to save one of the last great areas of Sumatran rainforest. This, for me, was the basis of the story of hope that I wanted to share with children.

There is still time to save what is left of the rainforests. Why not take a look at the WWF website to learn more about what we can do to help, including how we can all support sustainable palm oil production: 8 things to know about palm oil | WWF

Here is a craft idea linked to 'The Emerald Forest' that you might also like to try with your children.

‘The Emerald Forest’ is a story about a mother orangutan and her young in the rainforests of Sumatra. Karin Littlewood has created stunning pictures throughout the book of these incredible creatures. Why not have a go at making your own cardboard tube orangutan in a tree?

You will need:

- Orange, brown, green, cream and white paper

- A long cardboard tube

- A black pen or crayon

- Glue

- Scissors

- A ruler

- Some googly eyes (if you have them)

Step 1:

- Cut your brown paper so that it is approximately 2cm longer than your tube and wide enough to wrap all the way around

- Glue along one edge of the paper, fixing it to the tube

- Winding tightly, wrap the paper around the tube and fix with more glue to hold it in place

- Tuck the ends of the paper into the tube

- If you don’t have any brown paper, you could paint your tube instead

Step 2:

- Cut the following shapes out of the orange, cream and white paper

- The orangutan body and head needs to be approximately half the length of the cardboard tube

- Step 3:

- Glue the ‘beard’, face, mouth, hands and feet onto the body

- Cut the edges of the arms and legs to create the effect of fur. If you are using googly eyes, stick these onto the orangutan’s face

- Use a black pen or crayon to draw on nostrils, a mouth and eyes, if not using googly eyes

- Stick the orangutan onto the middle of the cardboard tube

Step 4:

- Cut the green paper into strips

- Draw a template onto one of the strips and layer on top of the other strips

- Cut around the template and through the other strips

- Glue each piece onto the top of the cardboard tube to complete your tree

- Your orangutan in a tree is finished!

'The Emerald Forest', by Catherine Ward and illustrated by Karin Littlewood, publishing with Otter Barry Books on 16th February 2023.


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