Children of the sun (Tour 1)

By Zina Sokolova (Azbuki Newspaper)

Germany’s transition to low-carbon, environmentally sound, reliable and accessible electricity supply, or the so-called energy revolution, relies to a large extent on renewable energy (wind, solar and hydropower generated electricity) and on energy efficiency. Most, if not all available coal-fired facilities will need to cease operations. The decommissioning of nuclear reactors should be completed by 2022.

The legislative support for this goal was adopted in 2010 and involves an 80-95% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (as compared to 1990), and a transition toward renewable energy (60%) by the same year. These ambitious goals are aimed at a more transparent formation of national energy policies. In response to an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection, Construction and Nuclear Safety, the Renewable Energies Agency and adelphi – a leading climate, environment and development consulting agency- have organized several media seminars for journalists from Eastern Europe that focus on various climate-protection initiatives. The first of these seminars is dedicated to local initiatives on the transition toward new energy sources. Part of the seminar’s program includes topics such as environmental education and environmental innovation, with the principles of climate protection and energy saving as an indispensable part of the curriculum.

Use your head, not coal

The ‘Use Your Head, Not Coal’ project extends the efforts of the Pankow district in Berlin to fulfil the energy saving potential in public buildings by encouraging changes in user behaviour. This project provides external consultancy by means of two experts – a technical expert on issues such as heating adjustment and system inspections, and a school communications expert assisting the organisation and designing of lessons, conferences and public relations on energy-saving issues. Presently, 17 schools (15 primary, one integrated secondary school and a high school) are participating in the project. Its implementation has already shown that encouraging cooperation and changes in user behaviour, combined with investment and new technologies, are crucial for the achievement of high energy efficiency. The project will also provide support for further development and innovation.

One of the participating schools in the region has well-equipped laboratories in which the children learn the uses of chambers and various tools. These laboratories are used also by students from other schools and are the site of various teacher-training courses on the uses of the available equipment.

One laboratory with various models of turbines and wind generators on each table comes with instructions on the use of the equipment. Everything revolves around energy and how it can be saved. The status of the environment is monitored on large display boards in many of the classrooms. These display boards show temperature and the content of carbon dioxide monitored by sensors. The goal of the project is to increase energy efficiency in schools and to ensure an ecologically minded upbringing is continued.

According to the specialists, combating climate change should be the task of every person. The best way to involve everyone is to start with the youngest – kindergartners and schoolchildren. Education on energy saving should be combined with an environmentally conscious upbringing and the protection of natural resources.

The Berlin experience

Wolfgang Schwarz was until recently the director of the Department for Education, Youth and Family in the Berlin Senate and is the current coordinator of a project concerned with climate change that involves schools in Berlin. He tells about his attempt to draw the attention of the media and of the public toward this subject to the maximum extent.

‘Any media would cover a catastrophe or on an accident’, says Wolfgang Schwarz. ‘However, the problem of climate change finds a place in the information media only during world conferences or in the case of a scandal. Otherwise everyone agrees that something should be done in this respect, and that this topic must be included in the system of education.’

One way to attract public attention is by organizing a competition. But this is not the only and, certainly, not the most important way. Public opinion is required to secure funds for education. Therefore, apart from a competition within Berlin schools that are participating in the climate-change project, teachers organize the showing of films, presentations, and special days dedicated to the issue. Certificates will be issued to all schools participating in the project. Efforts are being made to involve not only a single teacher in the project, but the entire school. The students must understand that the climate protection subject will be part of their lives in various respects and, most likely, to a far larger degree than it had been for their forebearers.

The project activities include teaching students how to become energy managers and advising their peers on how to save energy. This includes aspects such as wall colours for improved lighting and heat conservation for classrooms. .

Each school may invite residents of the municipality, companies, and non-governmental organizations to energy efficiency discussions. They may also invite a specialist to explain the operation of rooftop photovoltaic systems. It is important to note that this is a matter of not only saving money, but also of nature protection. Wolfgang Schwarz is insistent about the need to involve the families and the household associations in such discussions (author’s note - in Germany those associations are the owners of apartment buildings). During these meetings, the children will understand what building insulation is and how it retains heat. It is in the associations’ interest that their tenants should use the households in an intelligent manner. In this regard, schools could also help.

Climate protection is not only a matter of energy efficiency and energy policy. Food at school is also a serious discussion subject and is part of the topic of nature and health protection. Therefore, experts are attempting to integrate all aspects of life at school into the protection of climate.

In Berlin, there are training sessions for teachers knowledgeable on the subject of climate change. For example, a physics teacher may be very proficient in his/her subject and should be sure to make the connection between the curriculum and climate change. A similar requirement applies to teachers of other subjects as well.

One part of participation in the project and in trainings is that both the students and the teachers can use their knowledge in order to save energy. Another problem is that school buildings need repairs, which then require money. Approximately 500,000 Euro have been allocated for the renovation of Berlin schools participating in the climate-change project, or €17,000 per school. Those who are responsible for school building maintenance must contact the school’s management authorities and ask how this money should be invested to ensure energy efficiency.

‘This is a lot of money for one school, but not for the school building managers’ says Wolfgang Schwarz. ‘But this is how communication starts. Our idea was that if one school uses its building carefully, the authorities responsible for such buildings may decide to give more money to one school than to another. This should encourage all school managers to be more active.’

Another way to support schools is to use the environmental centres in Berlin where school training is also provided. Classroom visits are intended to provide schoolchildren with more knowledge on energy efficiency.

What the experts say

The Independent Institute of Environmental Issues (UfU) is a scientific institute and a non-governmental organization (NGO) highly involved in applied research in environmental education, public involvement, climate change and environmental law. Its motto is ‘Environmental Research Citizen Friendly’. This means that public opinion is taken into consideration as well. The institute was established by scientists and nature-conservationists during the peaceful revolution in the German Democratic Republic in 1989 and is the only non-profit institute involved in socio-environmental research with roots in Eastern Germany. The institute also works on the issue of climate protection in the context of education and environmental upbringing. Besides teacher training, it provides consultancy for local authorities. Its activities extend from kindergartens to universities and to professional qualification courses.

‘The environmental upbringing should begin at the earliest age and this is why one of our projects, the ‘Children of the Sun’, is dedicated to kindergartens’, says Dorothea Carl from the Institute, ‘and has been going on for ten years now.’ We talk to teachers and inspect the buildings. We teach the children about air, sun, water and about how shadows form. We conduct many experiments suited to the age of the children. As their first encounters with equipment and with measurements, this event makes the children very proud. We teach them to differentiate between weather and climate and how man can affect the climate. This is where teacher training is especially important for achieving the goals of the project.’

The advantages of working with kindergartens is that it enables interaction with the parents when they come to pick up their children. It is important to support the in-school environmental education with examples at home.

The schoolchildren’s projects include the use of microscopes and studying water and soil samples. The students are fascinated by their first contact with solar energy. This is a very exciting event for them and encourages achieving the project goals of changing the environmental attitude and habits. Education toward sustainable development requires learning to take action and not simply amassing knowledge.

Another project of the Independent Institute of Environmental Issues includes the organization of exhibitions with active public involvement. Various energy generation methods are demonstrated, as is the amount of energy consumed by various devices to convince those present that LED lamps consume less energy. One project aimed at universities is to provide special wheels that can illuminate a cinema hall or a discotheque.

The Federal Ministry of Environment has financed a platform to include schools active in climate protection issues; their current number is 3,600 schools. This platform enables the project participants to network, connect with the public, and show how active the students are on this issue.

Another project of the Institute is ‘50/50 Energy Saving at School’ – a combination between changing customer behaviour, measures for protection and a bonus provision system whereby schools receive half of the saved funds to use for other environmental initiatives. This project has increased the interest of school directors and has been joined by 3,500 schools and kindergartens. Approximately 750,000 t of carbon dioxide have been saved – an extraordinary achievement. In Germany, heat consumption is a very important matter and frequently concerns the condition of the buildings, window and doorframes, and the roof. A change in consumer behaviour is needed. It has been proven that 4 to 10 % of energy savings are possible without additional investment.

Other projects are concerned with the so-called energy audit. Usually, the audit is carried out by trained students who prepare a plan of the school with classrooms shown in different colours depending on temperature and lighting.  The plan is then presented to the building manager, who is obligated to do take action.

What can students measure? A small suitcase with instruments and apparatuses allows them to measure lighting intensity, heat in the rooms, and the carbon content – a good indicator of air quality. It shows when classrooms should be aired by opening the windows, the rule being to fully open the window for a short time.

The students enjoy the instruments and the responsibility. They check what fuel is used for heating and the insulation of the heating system pipes. They know what the required temperatures are for the classrooms (21 degrees), the gym (18) and the corridors (15). It is recommended that the heating be turned off during holidays and on weekends. The building managers and the school directors are also made aware of all this information.

The Bulgarian Participation

The National Trust Ecofund in partnership with the Independent Institute of Environment in Berlin, with financial support by the German Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection, Construction and Nuclear Safety is conducting a climate protection project on the improved behaviour of energy consumers in European schools. The first phase of the project involved four schools from Bulgaria – the Neofit Rislki Primary School and the Hristo Maximov Primary School from the town of Samokov, and the 56th Secondary Education School of Konstantin Irecheck, as well the 79th Secondary Education School of Indira Ghandi from the Lyulin District of Sofia.

The National Trust Ecofund has already financed energy efficiency improvement projects in two of these schools; the same measures in the other two schools will soon be implemented. The project implementation is comprised of the formation of permanent energy teams of schoolchildren mentored by several teachers. To prepare for their role as energy team leaders, the teachers were trained in Berlin and, subsequently, in their schools. The project will continue through March 2018.

Original article in Bulgarian