Navigating climate crises: what does popular education offer?

We are delighted to share a new booklet and popular text which calls for the development of heightened consciousness about the ecological crisis and the devastating destruction of the Earth and all its life forms. This is “What has a polar bear got to do with me?” produced by the Centre for Integrated Post-School Education and Training (CIPSET).

Every day a new extreme weather event confronts us through the media or in our lives.  Most recently in southern Africa we have witnessed catastrophic results of Cyclone Idai which has devastated central Mozambique, eastern Zimbabwe and southern Malawi. This is the worst cyclone to hit southern Africa in history. The city of Beira has been 90% destroyed. Entire villages have been wiped out. The cholera outbreak has grown rapidly with governments and aid agencies trying to contain it. Many health centres in the cyclone-affected communities have been swept away by flood waters, while the health centres run by relief agencies are barely enough to support thousands of displaced people. Many affected areas are still inaccessible by road, complicating relief efforts and further heightening the threat of infection due to water contamination.

From too much water to too little. In 2017 and 2018 Cape Town has had the most severe drought in its history, with some other South African cities in a similar predicament. South Africa is not alone – other cities, for example, in the USA, Brazil, Spain, Morocco, Australia and Pakistan, are also learning to live under drought conditions as the ‘new normal’. While Cape Town averted ‘ground zero’ when the taps of this medium size city of around 5 million were to run dry, its water supplies remain at high risk with long term rainfall predictions uncertain. The experience has changed the ways citizens think about water and how it is managed. The framing of the water crisis made it appear largely a ‘middle class problem’ with working class and poor people asking, what’s new? Up until now millions of South Africans do not have access to clean running water in their homes – but this has not been seen as a crisis – why not? Why has an emergency not been declared for millions of South Africans who walk great distances for water; when women and children have the prospect of sexual assault to and from water and ablution facilities?

Climate crises are deeply entangled with the economy and with politics.Fossil fuels are heating the planet at a pace and scale never before experienced. Extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels and accelerating feedback loops are commonplace features of our lives. The number of environmental refugees is increasing and several island states and low-lying countries are vulnerable. Some argue that we are on an ecocidal path of species extinction.

How must popular educators respond? The first step is to become informed. This new resource provides excellent up to date links to sources of material that you can use for your own education and for the education of those with whom you work. We invite you to share popular education interventions that you have developed to deepen consciousness of the ecological crisis.