#10 Interstellar solutions to the environmental crisis
(TES International Published version)
On the flight back to Oman from a short break to London recently, I found the time to rewatch Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi masterpiece Interstellar. If you’re not familiar with this stunning piece of cinema, the central protagonist, a space pilot called Cooper, has been forced to be a farmer in a world that is so badly polluted with dust storms that it can only support human life for a few more years. The fight for human survival on Earth is effectively over.
The only hope is to start a civilization afresh on another planet. Planets that could support colonies, even with advanced space travel, are out of our reach. However, with his daughter’s help, Cooper and his team use creative thinking (and the power of a wormhole) to eventually save the human race and start life again in different locations across the universe.
Will these survivors of the human race treat their newly found worlds with any more care and respect than they did planet Earth? Or will this crisis scenario be repeated again and again until the universe shows no more mercy?
Nolan's thought provoking film combines his creativity and a simplified interpretation of complex space science to offer a visual cinematic masterpiece. But it also raises challenging questions about love, life and the nature of our existence.
The extraordinary weather events we increasingly see around the world are a stark reminder that our planet is indeed warming up – and that we may one day face such scenarios. Are we well on the road to the apocalyptic scenario that Nolan paints in Interstellar? It can certainly seem that way from where I sit.
For example, Quriyat, Oman, one hour’s drive from British School Muscat, where I am principal,, experienced the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth in a 24-hour period in June 2018 - the lowest temperature that day was 42.6C. We see flooding and drought around the world every year.
Meanwhile cities from Delhi to Singapore continue to experience hazardous air quality levels. I am inundated with applications from international teachers who have decided they cannot continue to work in cities in which the air they breathe is damaging their wellbeing.
To tackle complex environmental problems such as climate change or air pollution, our students clearly need to learn and understand mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry and computing.
But how might our students solve these complex environmental problems? With creativity, flexible thinking and ingenuity – maybe learned through dance, design, drama or music.
And how will our students, as future global citizens – and potentially global leaders – explain complex problems to millions of people and persuade them to act differently?
And, perhaps most importantly how will they find peaceful, diplomatic solutions? Through teamwork, collaboration, empathy and negotiation learned through PE, geography, languages, business studies and psychology?
International schools have a responsibility to value all these subjects, and build an ethos around them, an ethos that can also play out on the sports fields, in the sports halls, the swimming pools, on the stage, in the mountains, the desert and the wadis (in the case of my school) and, of course, in the wider community.
More than ever before we need to ensure that our students experience a broad and balanced curriculum both inside and outside the classroom; a curriculum and an experience in which all subjects are equally valued. Our continued survival on this planet looks like it depends on it.
Kai Vacher January 2020
This article was published in the first International Edition of TES International in January 2020 - with thanks to Ed Dorrell for an amazing job editing this piece.