This article is the second one out of five, featuring stories about how teachers and their students relate to climate change.
Climate Change – Natural Disasters and School Society
Georgios Chatzigeorgiou, biologist, 2nd General Lyceum of Oreokastro, Greece
Climate change is a change in the pattern of weather, and related changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets, occurring over time scales of decades or longer.
Global warming is the term used to describe a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans, a change that is believed to be permanently changing the Earth’s climate.
What is the difference between global warming and climate change?
Although people tend to use these terms interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. “Global warming” refers to the rise in global temperatures mainly due to the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “Climate change” refers to the variation of meteorological variables over a long time span – including precipitation, temperature, and wind patterns.
What is a natural disaster?
The term “natural disaster” implies the consequence of a peril manifested in both natural and built environment. A natural disaster is a geological, hydrological, meteorological etc. situation or phenomenon wherein immediate or potential danger to human lives and properties exists; such disasters are usually rapid and characterised by a conflict of natural and anthropogenic socioeconomic environment, significantly afflicting the latter. The main natural disasters afflicting Greece, as well as the rest of the globe, include wildfires, earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions.
Admittedly, natural phenomena that have been occurring all the more frequently within the region of the Mediterranean during the past few years used to be much rarer, and are therefore now considered extreme phenomena. Their increasing recurrence in recent times is a major manifestation of climate change.
School community and crisis management
Each school ought to offer a safe environment, wherein promotion of psychological and physical health, elimination of risk factors and prevention strategies will guarantee democratic and equal education. Health education as a parallel educational activity is inextricably linked with the school itself, the pupils, the educators, the parents, as well as with society as a whole. Therefore, for the greatest part -if not entirely- crisis management (i.e. the manifestation of negative impacts) should be handled within each school structure by the educational community, which is comprised of the teaching staff. Intervention has to take place in school/class and carried out by those who are the most appropriate; that is, the school staff. For disaster prevention to be achieved, highly preferable is action within the native environment (i.e. the school or class) by individuals of the closest identification and familiarity therewith (i.e. the school staff). Important measures, such as rising of participant’s awareness, taking on roles and initiatives, or communicating the group goals and objectives, make for a remarkable undertaking; yet, it would prove ineffective in crisis intervention without training and education of participants. This initial step cannot be ignored, for the school effort is bound to fail if such training is not carefully considered.
In the context of environmental projects run by our school and foremost of the Erasmus+ project “Effects of Human Activities on Natural Disasters – eHAND”, a group of students and teachers from the 2nd General Lyceum of Oreokastro became actively involved in the collection of data on natural disasters in Greece. Several working groups were created, each undertaking to gather material relating to: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, fires, and landslides, respectively. Each group’s findings were presented to the others and at the various transnational and LTTA meetings also to students of the rest of the schools participating in the Erasmus+ project.
During the Erasmus+ LTTA meeting at our own school (23–27 April 2018), students from all participating countries were able to attend and participate in CLIL lessons for earthquake safety tips as well as environmental awareness and the preparation of a booklet «Getting ready for an earthquake». They also participated in the STEM lesson: “STEM & IBSE in Action: Earthquakes and Engineering in the Classroom” (link).
In addition to relevant research carried out, the students had the opportunity to be given informative presentations by two professors of the Geological Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh). These short lectures delivered were: “Minerals: the gifts of earthquakes and volcanoes in the Aegean” by Vasilios Melfos, Assistant Professor, Department of Geology AUTh (link), and “Active South Aegean volcanic arc and natural disasters through history” by Alexandros Chatzipetros, Assistant Professor, Department of Geology AUTh (link).
What awaits in the future?
The project, however, does not terminate in any case at this point. Preparation, readiness and education of the general population and society, so that every citizen knows how to react in order to protect themselves and all those around them, constitute crucial points, at least in cases of wildfires and earthquakes. Further yet, the school unit is considered to be at the vanguard of crisis management, so it is gravely important to set up and organize a team that will simultaneously put into good use the school’s human resources and also extensively contribute in delimiting and mitigating a crisis situation. This group has to take upon itself the burden of crisis management, as its members are everyday directly involved in school life and, of course, possess a realistic understanding of school life responsibilities. The advantages of this group are proximity, since it is based in and functions within the school environment, and speed of intervention.
For the above reasons, we have been training students in our school in first aid and protection during an earthquake. Approximately 45 pupils were trained by volunteers from PRO.T.E.K.T.A. in disciplines of first aid (Bleeding, Burns, Fractures, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) for about 4 months. In parallel, the students were trained in earthquake protection measures and techniques, with the aim of creating a crisis management team within the school. The said team, composed of pupils, teachers and the school principal, could be involved in planning-preparation and crisis response in school but also in contact with other institutions such as the Fire Brigade, Police Directorate, Mental Health Service, E.K.A.B. Furthermore, it shall cooperate with medical services in order to fully utilize local health institutions or health specialists -such as municipal nurses, local health center clinicians, rural doctors or private individuals such as general practitioners, neighborhood pharmacists or Red Cross volunteers – and keep a phone book with emergency phone numbers of doctors, hospitals, qualified medical staff etc. who can immediately respond and help. These students will be completing their training this year in the school environment, being trained in floods and wildfires and getting certified in first aid; moreover teachers will be trained in first aid as well, since the concept of integrated planning is becoming all the more necessary.
In contemporary times of climate change, it is most certain that natural disasters will be now finding us much more frequently than ever before. The concept of integrated planning, which is fundamentally linked to the assumption of sustainable development –viz. a mode of development with equal emphasis on the economy, society and the environment, ought to be expanded and built into the design of adaptation methods to the new climatic situation in nature imposed by climate change. For, lest we forget, natural disasters possess not only an environmental character, alas, they also have social consequences, as they afflict most readily the economically disadvantaged; and yet also negative economic impact, since they destroy the country’s natural wealth, therefore seriously undermining efforts of economic development.
The images featured are the author’s own, except for the cover image.