Help save the planet by walking to school each day

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The school run, with Bob Clare of www.lancashirewalks.com

Last academic year was marked by climate change protests on Fridays inspired by Greta Thurnberg a 16 year old Swedish activist who has galvanised the youth of the world to try to galvanise the politicians of the world into more urgent action to reduce carbon emissions.

I applaud Greta’s ambition. She is right to place climate change on top of the world’s agenda. Until now too much lip service has been paid to the need to reduce our carbon footprint. If we are to save the planet, prevent mass extinction, lower or maintain average temperatures radical action has to take place – not soon but NOW!

To my mind a new form of economics has to develop in that in every activity we engage in has to be measured by what it costs in terms of carbon emissions. In this way things that seem cheap – like a flight to Spain – emerge as costing the Earth.

So at the beginning of a new academic year the planet is in peril and school children are demonstrating their anxiety about growing up in a world less hospitable than the one we have. Yet rather than strike there is one action nearly all schoolchildren can do that will help reduce greenhouse gases – walk or cycle to school!

The School Run has become a ubiquitous part of our lives and one to the detriment of everyone who participates in it not least the children themselves. A few years ago I made an attempt to observe this phenomenon in my neighbourhood and witnessed on numerous occasions drivers despite all exhortations not to do so drive their charges to the very entrance of the school and deposit them there.

This is a social harm – it adds to congestion, adds to pollution close to the school and interferes with the passage of eco-friendlier school buses. It increases the risk of accidents near the school gate. But what good is it doing the child? They are in deficit every way you look at it.

Firstly they are denied the physical exercise that helps to maintain health. Suppose a car journey saves the child walking 500 yards that translates into a bit over half a mile a day – 100 miles in an academic year. Physical well-being and mental health are closely connected so if a person is not as fit as they could be that decreases their resilience to anxiety and depression.

Related to this is the fact the child doesn’t experience the outdoors – has no feel for the weather. They are moved from one interior (their home) to another interior (the classroom) by means of another interior (the car). Too often the calculation is made that it is cheaper to transport the child rather than buy suitable weather-proof which the youngster will soon grow out of anyway. Our senses need to be stimulated – to hear the rain, to see garden birds to feel the wind, to smell mown grass, to touch icicles. None of these are experienced on a 10 minute car journey.

Finally the child misses out on social contacts on the way to and from school. These have a different quality than those made in the classroom. They are more relaxed, less competitive and equally enriching as relationships formed elsewhere.

If the vast majority of the nation’s school children walked or cycled to school the world would be a happier place.

Traffic congestion would be significantly reduced as would carbon emissions. Young people’s physical and mental well-being would improve as well giving them a sense of autonomy where they are not reliant on others to make decisions for them. It might even encourage them to walk for pleasure.

As with many things walking for pleasure is something that is best introduced in the early years. There are a number of places previously covered in this column which would appeal to young children. The Terrace Gardens of Rivington is a magical area for families to explore as are Ingleton Waterfalls where an easy to follow trail through deciduous woodland gives a sense of adventure and wonderment. Add to these the country parks spread across the north west of England most with graded paths so that users can choose a walk according to the age and abilities of their party.

As a starter though local nature reserves or RSPB and Wildlife Trust reserves are ideal for initiating children into for walking for pleasure. In the North West there is a superb range of these amenities each offering a different perspective but all family friendly - Marton Mere at Blackpool, Martin Mere in West Lancashire, the RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss, the Wildlife Trust reserve at Brockholes and the Wildlife Trust reserve at Mere Sands Wood to name four.

If walking becomes pleasurable then walking to school becomes less of a chore so that children would choose to do it freeing their parents to walk to work. So in the coming academic year which starts on Monday I appeal to young people, do not strike to show your concern for the planet, instead take practical action and try to persuade as many of your schoolmates to walk or cycle to and from school. And if that happens who knows – teachers might follow your example!