Model Lily Cole Wants Everyone to Have a Climate Education

The Cambridge University graduate believes understanding the science behind global warming will inspire action.

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(Bloomberg) – The scale of the problem facing the planet hasn’t reached the masses. This is what keeps Lily Cole up at night. – As told to Jess Shankleman

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What keeps me up at night is the distance between what science is asking us to do and the extraordinary level of transformation that’s required on all levels of society in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.I don’t think education is the only lever, but I think it’s one of the key levers, because only with understanding the scale of the challenge will we galvanize the level of action that’s required.There’s formal education, in terms of schools and universities and the critical role they can play in raising awareness, and developing solutions, which is why I’m backing the MadeatUni campaign. Academics have a huge role to play in imagining alternative economic possibilities. Universities in the UK have taken a more proactive position in driving research and development. For example, my university has the Cambridge Zero plan, which is trying to galvanize its research facilities toward meeting this challenge.You’re seeing a lot of education coming out of the youth and educational facilities, but I don’t think it’s yet reached the level of mainstream understanding that we need. Awareness is growing, but there’s still a gap in the true understanding of the scale of the problem. When I was at Cambridge in 2008, I tried to encourage my college, King’s, to look at their investment strategy. I signed up to be a youth representative in the finance conversations. I just went once because I felt so unheard, like I was an alien. When I tried to speak about why the university was investing in fossil fuels and the arms industry, it seemed like there was no appetite for that conversation whatsoever amongst the older white men who were running the meeting. So it’s really great to see that’s changed and that Cambridge has committed to divesting from fossil fuels, as have many other universities across the country and actually around the world. The divestment conversation is now trickling into pensions and banks and investment funds. A lot of that movement arguably began in universities and was driven by young people, grappling with climate science and calling on their institutions to step up. So that’s super positive. But there’s also broader education, which applies to everyone. How we are being educated through our media, through our wider communication strategies through television film, etc. It’s only by being transparent and honest and realistic about the situation we’re in, and the climate science, that we will then see the kind of ripple effects of action and solutions on the scale that’s required.

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There was this extraordinary interview on TV the other day, where a youth activist called Miranda had gone on as part of the Just Stop Oil campaign. She was advocating for why we need to stop new oil exploration, which is not a radical thing to say, it’s what most climate scientists are saying. It’s what the International Energy Agency has said. It was very worrying to see how she was being dismissed and belittled by the other guests and by the interviewer. Somebody made a mash up of that interview with the film Don’t Look Up, and it was a really apt comparison because it did feel like a real life version of that film, where you have some activists or climate scientists trying to communicate the urgency of the situation, and then you just have a lot of people who have positions of power being dismissive. So that’s the kind of education gap that I still see as missing.I was in Davos last month for the World Economic Forum. And there are a lot of conversations about climate change, but it feels like the mainstream business part largely feels very disconnected from truly getting what this moment is asking of us. Historically, a lot of it was influenced by lobbying from the fossil fuel industry but I think that kind of climate skepticism is dying down now. I think what’s going on now is a cognitive dissonance. It’s actually really understandable. It’s really f —- ing hard to absorb the state that we’re in and it’s much easier to exist in a mindset of dismissing that and thinking it’s not going to be so bad. It’s really scary to grapple with what the scientists are saying. There are a lot of interests, not necessarily in fossil fuels, but in a business-as-usual way of thinking, where we don’t want to necessarily collectively question the level of consumption and profit as a main driver of industry and all of these kind of things that need to be questioned if we are really going to grapple with the science.It’s a really hard pill to swallow. And I think a lot of us are in a kind of collective denial about the stakes of the situation we find ourselves in, myself included.

I wrote in my book, Who Cares Wins, about solution-based journalism – how we champion solutions and have more positive news. It’s only by focusing on the solutions that we inspire hope that we can overcome these challenges and build momentum around the solutions that exist.

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