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Inspiring the child within

Updated Tuesday 15th December 2009

Founder member of Earth’s People, Inez Harker-Smith, talks to us from COP15 about her ambition to reverse the effects of climate change on our planet.

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Copyright The Open University

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I run a foundation for teaching children about environmental awareness and climate change. We try and make it as non-threatening as possible, so we see climate change as an opportunity rather than a major problem, which of course it is but trying to make it a little more attainable than frightening.

What inspired you to take an interest in climate change?

Definitely the course materials at Open University, so it’s not something that I anticipated; I didn’t know it would take me on that kind of journey. I didn’t think that I was gifted in sciences or maths, having left school, and it was a shock to learn that I could do the science and the maths, and it was then the course materials and learning about the impacts that are occurring around the world which I think gave me an insight that it affected me emotionally, and that’s why I started the Foundation.

What do you anticipate working on over the next 1, 5 or 10 years?

There’ll be major social changes. I think that people will start to see that the environment is not something that we exist separately from but something we exist within. Whether we move outside of cities, which I doubt, I think that’s unenvironmentally friendly, I think we’ll start seeing people becoming a lot more aware within their urban environments about wildlife, about water resources, about energy and their personal relationship to it. So the environment will have a personal aspect to it which it doesn’t now.

How do you inspire the children you teach?

I think the main thing that we forget is that the world is an extraordinary place, and investigating and exploring it is something that I don’t think even as an adult we can, we should never forget that, we remain children the moment we step outside. If we go out with a ball or just for a walk, there’s things out there that we need to see. So I think the things that, the way that I would probably do it, or the way that we do it is that, is to inspire children to see science. I mean people would probably argue with me but science, there is a form of magic in it; there is a form of adventure in there. The idea of water properties and the things that water itself can do in all its different states, the idea of carbon and the foundation for life, as well as being a globally threatening problem, those kinds of things are extremely exciting, and if you sell them in the right way or you present them in the right way you inspire people, and that’s what we try and do with Earth’s people.

Optimist or pessimist?

I’m a very optimistic person, and I hope I maintain that, but sometimes it’s hard and I’ve noticed that my optimism has changed a lot. I guess I was very naïve at the beginning. I’ve also taken on economic thoughts and analysis towards climate change, which I never did before. So I think that I’ve become a lot more realistic, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but I hope my enthusiasm doesn’t go. I see it changing now, the world is becoming a much better place already so let’s hope we have that in ten years.

Tell me about your day?

I’ve met a lot of interesting people. For the morning I was actually at university, so I was planning for what we’d do today. We were taking a camera to a wind farm, and that was amazing. It really was, when you, of course we see and we hear about all the data on a wind farm and the science behind it but until you’re standing in front of really a massive turbine you get a concept of how extraordinary this achievement is, both in science terms and engineering terms. Then there were side events, there were different side events, and I’ve met, more than that, I think the side events are interesting but there’s a lot of stuff I know already, what I’ve met are people. Just people, and they’re not always activists, in fact most of them aren’t. I’ve met a lot of people who are policymakers. I’ve met a lot of people who are involved as small concerns inside parties, and I’ve met people from all these kind of private companies who have got a stake in what comes out here. They’ve been investing in the future, and they’ve been putting all their savings into those kinds of things, and they are I think the way we’re going to go so I’d like to see them win. So I’ve met those kinds of people.

What do you want to get out today?

There’s a side event right now that’s taking place on European energy which interests me greatly. We have a history of not taking care of our planet and I think we have a responsibility now to at least lead the way and invest in other countries. So I’m definitely going to look at that. I’m going to meet up with other university students who are here as well, and we’re going to discuss what’s going on here. We are tracking the negotiations, we’re trying to see what’s taking place, and we’re paying attention particularly to each of the different countries and the interrelation. Of course there are countries, the EU for example, they’ve kind of made their decision and they’re standing by it, and there seems to be, amazingly enough, a very strong unity within that group, and that’s surprises me considering there are so many different agendas within the EU alone so we’ll be doing that.

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