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To find a sustainable future, we need to open our eyes, find the problems and search the solutions

Posted on: 5th June 2018

As part of World Environment Day 2018, Surval’s new Sustainability Club are aiming to raise awareness and inspire action.

In Spain earlier this year, a young male sperm whale was discovered dead on the coast of Murcia, his emaciated body washed up by the waves. An autopsy conducted at the Murcia El Valle Wildlife Rescue Centre revealed that the whale had consumed twenty-nine kilograms of plastic waste. Unable to expel this plastic from his body, the whale, a member of an endangered species, died from gastric shock.

If only this were a freak occurrence.

Yet, just a few days ago, another young whale died in Southern Thailand after swallowing eighty plastic bags.

The reality is that as we stuff our seas and oceans with more and more plastic and microplastics (scientists estimate that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean), feeding marine life with our waste, we are not only inflicting slow and painful deaths on the countless innocent creatures that swallow the detritus, but creating a deadly new plastic food chain for every living creature on the planet.

Put simply, we cannot sustain the way that we are living right now. If we do not want our beautiful planet – the blue waters and green forests and white-peaked mountains that make Earth unique in our solar system – to become the biggest garbage pile in the universe, then we need to work together to save it. And fast.

So that’s what we’re doing at Surval with our new Sustainability Club: we are working as a team to try and make our lives and our school more sustainable - that is to say, to create a way of living that can be maintained and that cultivates, rather than destroys, natural resources.

It is important to have initiatives such as World Environment Day and Earth Day to raise awareness and promote change; but we need to try and live every day in a way that respects and protects our world – and, as much as possible, nurtures it too.

The problem is that in the developed world, plastic has become practically as ubiquitous as breathing. It is in the clothes that we wear; in the toothbrushes we clean our teeth with; it fills our homes, our schools, our streets and our cities. And as quickly as we’re polluting our planet with plastic, we’re poisoning our atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Every fuel-powered journey by car or train or plane takes us a little bit closer to a dangerously warmer world; and to a natural environment that feels like being trapped inside a poorly ventilated underground car-park.

Faced with a problem that is, more or less, literally everywhere we look, it’s easy to feel tempted to shut our eyes.

But to find our sustainable future, we need to open our eyes, look for the problems and search for their solutions. We can, as individuals, take small steps and big ones. Say no to the plastic straw, shop the organic clothing brand, go vegan, stop flying.

I only know one person personally – so far – who, for environmental reasons, has given up flying completely; even some of the world’s top sustainability experts ruefully comment on the irony of flying in jet planes to conferences on sustainability. And though I’m not yet selfless enough to emulate him entirely, the magnitude of his sacrifice has had an impact on all of us who know him.

Perhaps therein lies the essence of hope – and, for now, there is still hope: hope in the power of the ripple effect of change to grow into a wave of transformation – those small and big steps that each of us can take towards a more sustainable way of living, which in turn will inspire others to new ways of thinking and acting.

Yes, it’s easy to be defeated before we begin by the inevitable ironies or hypocrisies we face along the way. Living in an unsustainable world, we’ll continue to tread our carbon footprint, and add to earth’s ever-increasing pile of plastic. Our first action as a Sustainability Club was to drive in the school diesel minibus to a conference in Geneva on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to takeaway Starbucks for the journey home.

But just because occasionally having a slice of chocolate cake or can of coke is no reason to abandon an otherwise healthy diet, so the constructive action of the Sustainability Club aims to outweigh small setbacks with big steps forward.

Working with the kitchen team, we have switched from the plastic bags that were used for picnic lunches and changed to recycled paper ones. The disposable plastic cups in the medical and staff rooms have been replaced with glass. Paper and plastic recycling boxes have been placed on each floor. Looking ahead to next term, we are hoping to start a road safety cycling scheme, so the girls can ride bikes into town instead of getting taxis or buses.

And one of our highlights as a club thus far has been the creation of the school’s new Sustainability Garden. For some of the girls, it was their first ever time weeding; but, equipped with their own set of gloves and metal trowel, they were soon showing the weeds who was boss. It took us several hours as a team to clear the disused area we had chosen for our garden, and when the time to plant came, the skies darkened, and the clouds unleashed a torrential deluge.

“Are we still going to plant?” the girls asked anxiously.

“Do you still want to?” (Uncertain of whether anxiety meant they were hoping for a yes or no...)

Eager smiles and enthusiastic nods!

And so, under the bruised sky, clothes quickly drenched in the downpour, we planted the vegetable and fruit plants, the lavender and the herbs, and Liza and Nastya’s cherry tree. The air was sweet with the scents of fresh earth, and the aromas of thyme, rosemary and basil mingled with the musky smell of summer rain.

A few weeks later, baby cucumbers have started to peek out from their leaves, the first strawberries have sprouted, the lavender is tipped with purple, and the mint, basil and dill seem to be out for world domination...It’s just a little garden for now, but what is symbolises is something bigger.

Change can happen overnight, and it is disingenuous and self-defeating to state otherwise. Switch to bars of soap instead of plastic containers, start walking instead of getting a taxi. Shop local, buy organic, eat vegetarian, turn off lights. Cut down on consumption, grow some bee-friendly plants, reuse and recycle.

Because, what it comes down to is this: we need to start living sustainably today if we want a tomorrow that we can live in at all.

Reflections on Sustainability from some of the girls in the club:

Emilia (FY):

I joined the Sustainable Society Club because I wanted to learn how to make the world a better place. For example, to make more green areas, to try to reuse the same thing as many times as possible, and to try to convince other people to do this. This is important because we are trying to do good changes for our planet by recycling, planting, reusing, and more.

I hope to achieve that the plants that we planted grow and that other people are inspired to do the same. I really liked gardening because this was my first time doing it and it was really fun. I really loved that we are doing something like this because where we were planting there were dry plants and bad crops and when we took them out and planted the new plants, now it looks great.

I hope that the Sustainable Society Club will find more girls to help making these kinds of projects and inspire other people to do the same.

Liza S (G10):

I have joined the Sustainability Club because I realised how important it is to help the environment and to try and create a better world. This will be possible if each us does something for it and, before doing something, we should think how it will affect everything around us. This is what we should do ourselves and encourage other people to do as well. Therefore, joining the Sustainability Club will help me to change into a person that will always try and do only good things for the environment, encourage others to do so,  and hopefully we will be able to help and create a Sustainable World!

In our Surval Sustainability Club we have already started to work, and what I am most proud of is our own garden that we have created together with all of the members. We have planted some herbs, salad, lavender (for the bees��), tomatoes, cucumbers, melon, watermelon, raspberries, strawberries: (we already have some!) and even a cherry tree! Watering all of those gives me so much pleasure and it encourages me to help and work on changing the world.

I hope that next year Surval will make much more changes and we already have some interesting ideas; for example, about reducing the plane-involved trips, as this massively damages our environment, and to use less buses in general.

Lucia (G11):

I joined the SC because I want to contribute to the project of making the world a better place to live in. This is very important because without sustainability, we won’t be able to maintain our quality of life or the quality of life of other ecosystems, such as animals and nature.

I hope to come up with good new ideas to try to improve our actions and spread awareness of how important this is. We need to convince others of the need for change in order to improve the quality of our environment; not just to improve it, but to maintain it for future generations.

My highlight of the Sustainability Club so far was starting our garden because I thought, “how amazing it is that we’ve created such an incredible project like this in such a short time.”

I’ve learned that making a change (in this case to help the environment and be more sustainable) is a matter of making small and constant efforts. I’ve also learned, thanks to the SC, that in order to make people change their actions, you need to first change their way of seeing things.

I think one of our short and long-term goals is the garden project because we’ve already done a lot but we still need to take care of it and try to make it better and expand it little by little. I also think that, from now on, the garden should be part of Surval and should be under the care of every new generation of Survaliennes.

Another long-term goal is to provide Sustainability and Environmental awareness as part of whole school education. I say this because I don’t want the SC to be over once Miss MacLeod or us leave the school. I think it is really important that everyone that comes to Surval leaves with a different point of view about this issue.

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