Thursday, 26 June 2014

Harrow College shows the way on inclusion and sustainability

Tony Medhurst, Principal, presents award to Priya Ramaiya

I was honoured to be invited to Harrow College Student Awards yesterday as one of the keynote speakers.  I was impressed, and moved, as the award ceremony progressed, at how clear it was that the College and its students valued the inclusion of students with special needs and disabilities.  The range of awards was extraordinary and the talents of the students shone through.

Particularly impressive was Priya Ramaiya (above) whose citation for the Courage and Commitment award speaks for itself:
Priya is one of Harrow College's most courageous, determined and committed sudents. A few years ago she was struck by lightning and had to spend a considerable amlunt of time in hopsital. Her injuries left her in a wheelchair but she has not let what happened to get in the way of her dream of studying medical science. She is an absolutely amazing young lady.
I presented the Environmental Contribution  Award to 'Harrow College Low Carbon Cafe':
During the Big Rig Challenge nine of our students took part in setting up a solar powered shower installation as part of a competition in partnership with WorldSkills and the National Skills Academy. The task included setting up a water harvesting system that could heat water in an envirobmentally friendly way. The learners showed great commitment and enthusiasm during the challenge and gained a valuable insight in to new green deal technologies.
I used the occasion in my keynote speech to urge the students to  harness their talents and determination to answer the challenge posed by climate change:

Thank you very much for inviting me here today. In 2010 I came to the college  take part in the General Election hustings. Perhaps the election result will be different in 2015!
Recently I visited  Harrow Weald campus during Sustainability Week and saw all the work that has been going on to bring home the message that everyone has a role to play in ensuring that there is a world fit for your children and your children’s children. The college is to be congratulated in making sustainability one of its strategic objectives.
A sustainable future is one where we are not living as if we have the resources of three planets rather than one, where we are not increasing emissions of greenhouse gases and thus increasing global warming, where all have enough to eat and no-one is grabbing more than their fair share - or wasting what they do have, where the air we breathe and water we rely on for life are unpolluted.
Climate change and extreme weather events are happening around us now. I see it in small ways as a gardener when strawberries start flowering in November or pear trees blossom before bees emerge from the winter and therefore are not pollinated. We have experienced extreme weather including floods.  We see it on the grand scale in the melting of the ice caps, disappearing glaciers, methane releases from tundra and rising sea levels.
Business is waking up to the threat, Recently a report was published in the US which warns business of the consequences of climate change:
The study says there’s a better-than-ever chance that as much as $23 billion worth of Florida property will be underwater by the middle of the century.

But the report projects something investors call a “tail risk” — a low-probability but extremely high-cost event that pushes losses far above $23 billion. For Florida property, the “tail risk” is that there’s a 1 in 100 chance that by the end of this century, as much as $681 billion worth of property will be submerged.

Robert Rubin, another Wall Street veteran and former Treasury secretary under President Clinton, is also involved in the Risky Business study. He says the threats are widespread across the economy.

“Agricultural yields could fall by 50 percent or more in some parts of the country,” Rubin says. “You could have temperatures that prevented people from working outdoors for some part of the year in certain parts of the country. All of this has massive effects, and all of this is a very realistic projection of what is likely to happen if we don’t act.”

“If we don’t act” – what does that mean? (The end of the world as we know it within a few generations?)
Last year I helped organise a Brent Students Conference on Climate Change and we looked at how the actions we could take to combat climate change.:
These included:
·      The small changes that we can make in our everyday lives – reducing energy and water consumption, walking or riding bikes instead of driving, supporting local businesses and shops, reducing consumption (do you really need to update your phone?), growing your own and providing habitats for plants, insects and animals.
·      Action by local councils working with schools, colleges, businesses on insulation, micro-energy production, local food growing, better public transport.
·      Looking at developing the green economy locally and nationally through training opportunities in green jobs through colleges and links with universities, green technology, green enterprise zones – the campaign A Million Climate Jobs has has lots of ideas.

However this can all seem small-time when we realize the extent of the problem.
Imagine this scene: Houses have collapsed, bridges are down, people are trapped and crying for help. We scramble in the dust and dirt rescuing those we can.  Meanwhile out to sea, unknown to us a Tsunami is gathering, a huge wave is heading our way. We are concentrating on moving the rocks and bricks, we care (quite rightly) about the desperate people we are trying to rescue. We finally look up at the roar of the sea, but it is too late. The mountainous waves engulf and destroy all in its path – rescuers and victims.
The current economic situation: unemployment, welfare cuts, student fees, housing crisis is like the earthquake. Dealing with it is important and necessary. But Climate Change is the Tsunami – it is coming at us and at an increasing pace.
We have to look up. We have to deal with it. Or it will be too late. We will be engulfed.
And the ‘we’ MUST include governments. The world HAS to work together. The threat is too big for just individual actions.
But that is where this ‘we’ must influence the ‘they’. We need to be part of a movement which will force governments to take action.  They are failing to work together effectively and time is running out. There are talks in Paris in 2015 to once again try and get the nations working together. We have to make sure that this time they produce real results.
So the final part of the action plan after individual actions, local council actions and national economic changes is international action. That is where each and every one of us has to exert pressure on politicians and governments – it is a matter of survival.
Tonight has been fantastic but I urge you to use the skills, knowledge, creativity and determination that you have shown tonight to take part in that struggle for the future of humanity.

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