Environment awareness is rising, thanks to climate change. Once people start to see, feel and cope with the changes in their everyday lives, things can begin to change. Adult education is playing a part in the process.
The effects of climate change in Europe are just one generation away. As it gets warmer in Southern Europe the flow of tourists from the north will turn round and agriculture will be extremely difficult."
That is the view of Pär Holmgren, a Swedish meteorologist who devotes his time to adult education on climate issues.
The study of subjects associated with climate issues has become an important aspect of the work of liberal adult education in Sweden.
A few years ago, a research paper from the University of Gothenburg showed that many Swedes had scant knowledge of the effects of climate change and the lifestyle we need to adopt to establish a sustainable society for the future.
But as more and more signs have become apparent in the environment, the level of awareness has also risen. All of Sweden´s nine study associations are now actively working to get a discussion started on how our lifestyle affects development. Study circles and lectures approach the climate issue on a broad front - from the carbon footprint of food to the potential of wind power. From organic food to the way in which the multinationals exploit the resources of developing countries.
Meteorologist Pär Holmgren was formerly the Head of the Weather Department at Sveriges Television. He is now a regular visitor and lecturer at the study associations. His books about changes in the weather are used as material in study circles all over Sweden.
"The most positive development in recent years is that people other than the most environmentally committed have begun to take an interest in climate issues", he now says. "Because, as the effects of climate change start to become apparent, people start to wake up".
"The length of time it takes to form opinion is partly due to the fact that the climate system reacts slowly, often with at least 10 years´ delay", says Pär Holmgren. "The climate changes we are experiencing now are the consequences of environmentally harmful emissions from the 1980´s and 90´s."
"Of course scientists knew about the risks involved back in the 1990´s, and they knew what might happen to the climate. What they had not realised and therefore had no information about, was how incredibly sensitive the climate system actually is. So it is important to pass on what we now know to the general public. Which is what we are now doing through adult education."
Less air travel
Pär Holmgren sets out three areas which are decisive for having an effect on the climate of the future.
The first of these is transport; to make transport as environmentally-friendly as possible by cutting back on flying; for example curbing domestic flights and increasing train traffic.
"We need to cut back on flying as long as it relies on fossil fuels. And we should ban cars that run on petrol outright".
The second area is heating, how we heat our homes. It comes down to the type of electrical power we use.
Choosing electrical power with established environmental credentials is a good start.
"The best thing is to buy into shares in a wind power station", says Pär Holmgren.
The third area is the most important and the most difficult. It involves the entire world trading system.
"The southern hemisphere produces and the northern hemisphere consumes. In the long term, we need to work towards more regional and local production. At the same time we must allow the countries in the southern hemisphere to catch up with us in terms of economy and standard of living. Global warming and the gap between rich and poor are two issues which have to be solved together."
Converting as much energy production as possible to renewal sources of energy is an excellent investment for the future, according to Pär Holmgren.
"It should be simple. Sweden is perhaps the country in the world which is the best placed to convert electricity production, thanks to our biomass and our hydroelectric power".
Statistics show that 65% of those living in Sweden now think that the fight against climate change is the most important issue in the run up to the EU elections in June. In this particular instance we are at the forefront of the EU member states. When Sweden next has the EU presidency in 2009, we should ensure that the EU really puts its foot down on climate issues".
(InfoNet - Hetty Rooth)