What Role Does Community Play in Shaping a Sustainable Future?

As delegates from around the world gather in Dubai to attend COP28, Iain Keith, Executive Director of the Climate Emergency Collaboration Group (CECG) and former Gordonstoun student, contemplates our shared responsibility in tackling climate change, talks about the roots of his environmentalism and reflects on the impact of his Gordonstoun education.

From a very early age I was passionate about the environment. Perhaps it was those 3rd form expeds rambling through the rugged wilds of Wester Ross, the 5th form cruises with dolphins of the bow of Sea Spirit, or those IRU cold swims in the pristine waters of the Moray Firth.

Even in those days, I can recall thinking how much of our natural heritage was influenced by humans -- remains of highland crofts, Salmon Farming pens on the west coast, massive forestry commission projects. As remote as Northern Scotland can feel, its environment has been deeply shaped by its population over centuries (and vice versa!). As I left school and studied Environmental Science, I began to see that pattern playing out all over the world.

A great disservice has been done to humanity since the 1980s - when a fixation on individualism and 24/7 consumerism created a sense that we are all somehow separate from nature. Yet it is healthy ecosystems that give us water, soil, air, the very fundamentals that sustain all life on Earth, but today, according to the Earth Overshoot Commission, humanity is using nature 1.7 times faster than our planet’s biocapacity can regenerate, in short we are using our planet up quicker than it can repair itself.

Professor Johan Rockstrom describes nine planetary boundaries that we are dangerously close to, but one in particular is now in a state of emergency: our climate.

A lot of people have dismissed the framing of a climate emergency, they argue it causes doomerism and despair (not as much as losing your home in a forest fire/flood I would argue). Equally, emergencies tend to lead to laser focus, urgent response, and meticulous coordination, all of which are traits we now need based on the latest science of climate change. The question is what intention do you bring to a challenging scenario, and intention setting is something Gordonstoun knows well.

Plus est en vous - how many of us have faced adversity in our lives only to fall back on those memories of the time you pushed yourself just that little bit harder? You remembered there was "more inside you" and you pushed through. Humans, much like nature, can be incredibly resilient.

This doesn't mean there aren't challenges, and that young people today don't have a right to feel angry and anxious. Increasingly therapists and mental health workers are referring to Eco Anxiety, and the devastating research of the Lancet commission that polled 10,000 16-25 year olds in 10 countries and found: “More than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, and many reported a high number of negative thoughts about climate change (eg, 75% said that they think the future is frightening and 83% said that they think people have failed to take care of the planet)."

Many will look to COP28 in Dubai to governments to fix this problem, and whilst ultimately governments are the only institutions with the resources and mechanisms to drive the sort of widespread change we need, for a plethora of reasons they will fall short in Dubai. Instead we must take a view to 2025 - to Brazil, where 10 years on from the historic Paris Climate Agreement, countries will have to come back and offer improved carbon cutting commitments, and more money to help those countries that can't help themselves.

To make that happen will require an almighty and unprecedented mobilisation of all corners of society - not only in marches and activism, but in advocacy, public service, and leadership that thinks outside the box. And as a centre of education that was founded on breaking conventional moulds, Gordonstoun can be at the vanguard of that organising effort.

The school has already built the greenest classrooms in Scotland, as an example to all. And they will continue to build the next generation of leaders, rooted in community and public service. But there is more too that can be done. A climate curriculum could be a valuable offering for the next generation, so they can understand not just the crisis, but the opportunity too.

The international Summer School gives a chance to bring people from all over the world together for building community and connection. At a time when our world is increasingly polarised, Gordonstoun and its Round Square School partners can be a beacon of cross-cultural environmental exchange and collaboration. Finally, there's maybe the largest asset the school has - its alumni. Collectively, we can change policies in companies, run for office on climate platforms, we can write letters to decision makers, we can make films & music that inspire and motivate the masses, and we divest our funds from activities that are fueling planetary catastrophe.

The sacred oath between generations for centuries was you leave the world in better condition than you found it, those of us who are adults today are perilously close to breaking that oath. In the next 6 years we must cut carbon pollution in half. That is the challenge before us, and one that we must all collectively rise to. We already know there is more inside us but as we enter the mid-2020's perhaps a new motto might be in order? "Plus est en nous" – there is more in us -- because at the end of the day to change everything, it takes everyone, and a collective belief in possibility.

Enquire here to discover Gordonstoun, where a transformative education sculpted by the Scottish landscape, empowers our students to shape a more sustainable future.