Excerpt: Learning in the Age of Climate Disaster

Key Points

  • How can we confront the realities of climate change in schools and universities and not sink into hopelessness?

  • Here is an excerpt from the book Learning in the Age of Climate Disasters: Teacher and Student Empowerment Beyond Futurephobia by Maggie Favretti.

maggie book

Below is an excerpt from the book Learning in the Age of Climate Disasters: Teacher and Student Empowerment Beyond Futurephobia

By: Maggie Favretti

For teachers and students, who are shining through injustice and disaster everywhere. Who are weaving the future out of love and joy, life and fortitude every minute of every day. For my parents, who taught me to recognize my ancestors, who led me to love Earth and to let her love me back. Who showed me how to nourish neighborly relationships with all living beings.


“Is it too soon to worry?

Or do we have some time left-

For choosing amongst abundance or

Leaving our earth bereft?

…Is it too soon to worry?

Or can we have time to ourselves-

To defer the serious discussions and

Ignore flooded crops and parched wells?…”

From “Too Soon?” by Rehan Raza,

9th grade, Hisar, India

With accelerating frequency, the scientists on the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issue reports based on evidence and consensus that the window of opportunity to prevent runaway global warming is closing. Achievable carbon-reduction goals have already been overshot and without sweeping actions by those wielding the power to make decisions, especially regarding continuing extraction from and destruction of the planet, as well as individual and community actions, we are looking at continuing intensification of widespread suffering and displacement within existing human lifetimes. The prognosis: the number of years we have left to make significant systemic changes to avert the “worst picture” has dropped to single digits.

At the end of 2021, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization) released a report calling on all educational institutions to stop business as usual and focus on the four existential challenges confronting life on earth: climate change, inequality, fragmentation, and struggling democracies. Education is the only local and global institution that touches almost everyone, and as a result education is the most effective and interconnected lever for transformative change. There has never been a more important time for societies and communities to embrace and empower educators and learners of all kinds to take a leading role in addressing these complex, interwoven imperatives for life. The big question is: how can we confront the realities of climate change in schools and universities and not sink into hopelessness?

The complexity of the situation is daunting, but there are five essential simplicities to hold on to within the tangle. When confronted with overwhelming powerlessness, teach agency. When confronted with extinction, teach closer to the roots of life. Educators hold the keys to cultural transformation. Our Mother Earth takes care of us and so we must take care of her. The best news of all: Nature has given us everything we need.

The culture of separation and destruction is strong and its systems of harm (colonialism, racism, sexism, extractivist capitalism) are resilient. It has governments and money and powerful narratives (materialism, patriarchy, fatalism) on its side. It has spent centuries colonizing lands and species and peoples, and fracturing bonds with living natural systems, within ourselves, and with each other. It extracts, pollutes, enslaves, trafficks, incarcerates, and kills. It breeds suspicion and hatred, fear, corruption, and lies. There have always been strong people fighting against the cultures of destruction and holding fast to the wisdoms of love and life. They show us pathways to justice and care, abundance and hope. Pathways to return home to the powers we already have.

How can we confront the realities of climate change in schools and universities and not sink into hopelessness?

Maggie Favretti

On these paths, we can revitalize our learning and revive Earth by accepting what life has given us. Infinite interrelatedness. Coherence. Regeneration. Unities of diversities. Collective success.

Continuous change. These regenerative principles are like a living vision on the puzzle box that reminds us how, when we focus more on how the pieces fit together, we can bring into being something much more beautiful than its parts. In the hands of educators and their young (and old) allies, life’s principles are already helping us to move and act beyond futurephobia, that sticky toxic mix of fear, fatalism, guilt, anger, blame, and above all powerlessness that has many of us stuck and carrying on with a futureless ‘business as usual.’ One caveat: regenerative learning is a journey, not a destination. You don’t get a grade in it and move on to something else. Nature teaches us that life is change. No one can claim they are done learning, that they are now an expert at regenerative learning and can teach it to you in a workshop and then you will be an expert, too. We are always learning and changing together, going deeper, understanding more of how we can be better at being human and playing our part in the pluriverse of infinitely changing relationships.

So join us in the next chapters, where we will explore ways in which teachers are already aligning with life and tapping into all ways of knowing and being and shifting the paradigm for learning to make it more liberatory and just. We will explore new frameworks for thinking about life and love (the teacher’s superpower), emotional well-being, and safety in school and build those into everything we do. Our young thought partners will show us what matters to them. We will identify the sources of (re)generative power (Power To, Power With) within and among us–the efficacy resources we already have to drive change and strengthen collective resilience: our Personhood, People, Place, Purpose, Process, and Positivity. We will imagine and see some living examples of what school could look like if it was designed to do what it should–to cultivate cultures of coherence, belonging and agency and the love of change and learning and the sense of possibility that goes with them. When all of our resources for power are built into our learning environments, a positive sense of well-being, interconnectedness and efficacy becomes the basis for thriving. Together, we can co-create regenerative, living worlds.

Maggie Favretti is an author, codesign thinker, systems change maker, educator, climate activist, and Founder of Design Ed 4 Resilience.

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Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

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