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The energy behind London’s driving forces - a blog from Doorways
(13/04/20)
Posted by : Martin Crabbe

The COVID-19 emergency dominates the news to the exclusion of almost everything else. And this is entirely reasonable. This is an unprecedented global crisis and most other issues just won’t make the news editor’s cut.

 

In this blog, I want to reflect on energy during this crisis, a subject that isn’t currently in the headlines. Yet our energy systems (just like our connected transport and food systems) cannot afford to fail during this period of crisis. How resilient, for example, is London’s energy supply? In pre-virus ‘peace-time’ did we do the best we could to ensure we were  energy resilient? Did we make sure that our energy needs were sustainable? The successful delivery of energy resources to people throughout the world cannot be taken for granted.

 

Even before COVID-19 it has felt to me that the topic of energy has quietly slid away from most of my sustainable schools discussions.  It has been replaced by the current crucial priorities of air quality, the climate emergency and learning outside the classroom. But scratch the surface of any ‘sustainable issue’  and energy concerns are still very much there, maybe out of the spotlight but no less important.

 

It is true that the ‘solar energy heydays’ of the previous decade, where schools were offered multiple schemes to install solar power, have long gone. So why did energy fall off the radar? I think it is simply that the schools approach to energy  became completely frustrated by frequent political and economic changes of direction. This made it very difficult for schools and the third sector to feel confident in their responses.

 

In the last couple of years however, the Climate Emergency has started to change this situation. It has led to Government promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero and a wider, connected debate about energy use has (re?)emerged. Schools and the third sector need to re-engage in this debate.

 

It's crucial that we do not see energy as a disconnected subject. It impacts pretty much everything we do. As well as considering how we heat and provide electricity to the school there are many other energy issues that should concern us. How do students travel to school? How does food get to the school? How is food produced? What resources do we consider essential to deliver lessons? What temperature should classrooms be? And so on.

 

And it is very much integrated into this current crisis. For example, the resources that I recommend in the next paragraph are based around energy and London’s transport system. It is impossible, whilst promoting this resource, not to be aware of the many transport related issues that Londoners are currently facing and its huge impact to the city. The recent virus related deaths of bus drivers bring this into brutally sad and stark focus.

 

When I was considering which of the many great energy resources to promote, I was attracted to one produced by the superb London Curriculum. This resource, entitled London’s Driving Forces, looks at energy from the subject of Physics and in the context of London’s transport system. It is valuable in that lifts us out of our traditional sustainable schools focus on energy and challenges us from a different perspective. If we are truly to create a city where all its schools are sustainable we must actively seek different people to engage in our projects. This all-encompassing approach has been adopted by London Climate Action Week.  It recognises that if London is to lead the way in climate action it must open its doors to a whole range of perspectives. Music and football sit happily alongside science and politics in their common goal of climate action. Climate action is seen as something that should engage all Londoners, from whatever background, age, ethnicity, sexuality and so on.

 

The London Curriculum takes this approach throughout. The resource that I recommend here points out that London is an ever expanding place. This is not seen as a negative but rather a feature of a global city that can’t be ignored. Many people have to travel to school, to work or just to visit any of London’s visitor attractions. It is important that London can keep on the move. (Obviously at the time of the COVID-19 crisis this situation has changed but it will hold true again.) London is connected with its expansive road, rail and London Underground tube network that usually transports millions of people each day. The recommended unit of work looks at how forces and energy, big ideas in physics, play a major role in London’s transport network.

 

The resource encourages students to use modern information systems to measure average speeds for journeys around the capital. They will investigate forces acting on vehicles and the energy used to make vehicles move, with a focus on how energy efficiency is a vital issue in large conurbations like London. Finally, students will explore the factors involved in safely travelling in London. Opportunities are suggested (post virus crisis!) for students to collect data on a local level as well as taking their investigations further at key London institutions such as the Science Museum and the Crystal. Some of this work may be carried out virtually.

 

You may wish to use this resource with your students straight away or you may prefer to use it as a chance to look at something different. Physics may not be your normal speciality, but I still recommend this brilliant resource (and indeed all of the London Curriculum work).

 

About Doorways:

London Sustainable Schools Forum are launching their most reflective project yet: Doorways. The Doorways project aims to support schools and those that work with schools to consider how to develop a more sustainable approach. They will be promoting great free school resources based around the following eight themes (doorways): air; energy; food; local well-being; school grounds; travel and traffic; waste; and water. These categories are a ‘mash-up’ of ideas from previous sustainable schools work and the eco-schools categories. The specific ‘doorways’ are less important that the idea behind them. Namely, that it's more important to get started on one area and do it well (i.e. as sustainably as possible) than worry about ticking every box.

 

Please visit their website page here.

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