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should seventeen-year-olds feel guilty about flying?
4th November 2010
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I do very few talks for schools or undergraduates – maybe two or three a year. But I really enjoy them. This morning, I ran a workshop for sixth formers, as part of a conference for secondary schools organised by some amazing volunteers from the local branch of the World Development Movement.

I got the students drawing up carbon budgets for a local area, and they did a brilliant job of working out where carbon savings could come from. I’m always impressed by how much schoolchildren know about climate change. Much more than most adults. I think that it is well embedded into the curriculum now.

I was surprised, though, by how quickly the conversation turned to personal responsibility. This is good, in a way – we want everyone to think through their own emissions, and to change the way they do things. But I think we sometimes put too much emphasis on personal responsibility. One girl told me that her extended family lives in Greece, and they fly there on holiday, but she feels guilty about flying.

That’s a massive burden to put on the delicate shoulders of sixteen year olds. Of course it’s good if they feel some responsibility. But they shouldn’t feel that it’s all up to them to do alone. I would like to turn some of that guilt into righteous indignation – directed at government, politicians, economists and businesses. We can only do so much alone. We need to change the system, not just our holiday destination.

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Rebecca Willis

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