Skip to content ↓

April 2024 - Year 26 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

Global Ecological Collapse and the Power of Teachers

Alan Maley has been involved with ELT for over 50 years. He has lived and worked in 10 countries worldwide, including China and India. He is a prolific author. He is a founder member of the Creativity Group (The C group). In 2012 he was given the ELTons Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a regular contributor to HLT Mag. Email:



The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing.  attributed to Edmund Burke

This article is a call for teachers to exercise the considerable power they have to contribute to ongoing attempts to halt the now serious and very real damage to the global ecosystems.  It is structured as an attempt to answer a series of questions:

Is the global eco-system already collapsing?

Can anything be done?

Do teachers (especially language teachers) have a role to play in resisting imminent collapse?

How might they contribute?

What factors are preventing them from taking action?


Is the global eco-system already collapsing?

What happens to a society that won’t deal with its own shit?  

It ends up deep in it.  

Paul Kingsnorth.

The answer has to be ‘yes’ – in a year when average global temperatures for the whole year were 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial era levels – for the first time ever.  And a year in which atmospheric and sea temperatures rose to record levels and we experienced extreme weather worldwide with out-of-control wild fires and apocalyptic floods, rising sea levels, the depletion of resources – including water, a tsunami of refugees, widespread famine, and more.  And all of this against a backdrop of population levels rising towards the 10 billion red line (Emmott 2013) along with increasing economic aspirations and expectations in developing nations.   Expanding numbers plus rising economic expectations combined with finite and diminishing resources is a fatal equation.

So the effects of global warming are already here.  They are not some hypothetical scenario still years away.  They are happening now.  And at a faster rate than any of the experts had expected or predicted.

Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences. 

 Robert Louis Stevenson


Can anything be done?

We have to believe that it can, though there is little evidence of effective action so far.  This in spite of the fact that the alert was sounded as early as 1962 by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring.   Since then we have seen The Club of Rome report on The Limits to Growth (1972), David Attenborough’s, The Blue Planet (2001), and many other of his books and films (Attenborough 2020, 2021), Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth, both book and film (2006); James Lovelock’s, The Revenge of Gaia (2006), The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, and innumerable books and reports, not to speak of the 28 COP meetings and the rise of Extinction Rebellion spearheaded by Greta Thunberg (2019).  Yet for all the many international conference resolutions, there has been little action.

Nothing is inevitable until it happens.  

AJP Taylor

We can all do something, however small, to make a difference.  We can act as individuals to change our mind-set and our habits of consumption.  But we can also act in cooperation with others – in families, local communities, schools, teacher associations and even through local, national and international bodies.  I will return to specifics later in the article.  It is surely better to try and fail than not to try at all.

I have a tendency to prefer failure to avoidance.  

Christophe Andre


Do teachers (especially language teachers) have a role to play in resisting imminent collapse?

I believe they very definitely do.  As we all know from our own educational experience, teachers can be role models and can inspire us.  The fact is that teachers educate us in ways which far out-strip the subjects they teach.

We learn our teachers, not just the things they teach:

So let’s be sure we practice what we preach.  

 Alan Maley

I carried out an informal inquiry in 2010 with a follow-up in 2022.  I called it the My Teacher Project (Maley 2010).  I simply asked a number of experienced teachers worldwide to recall a teacher who they had liked, respected and who had exercised long-term influence on them.  I then asked them what those qualities were that had made that teacher so memorable. Overwhelmingly, the responses referred to the teacher’s personal qualities, not to their professional expertise.  It’s who you are that matters.  And who you are can have a massive influence on the beliefs, values and practices of your students.


They don’t care how much you know

Till they know how much you care.

                                                           Theodore Roosevelt

Fortunately, integrating Global Issues into our teaching is not so difficult to achieve.  Because language teaching has no defined content, Global Issues can become that content – and highly interesting and compelling content too.  And the teaching activities and techniques are already in place.  There is no great methodological shift required.  What is needed is a shift in mind-set.

But to be effective, teachers need to be well-informed, critically enthused and action-oriented.  ‘Raising awareness’, that well-worn cliché, is not enough.  We have to get our hands dirty.

If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.   

John Ortberg


How might teachers contribute?

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.   

Malcolm Forbes.

As I have already mentioned, the mere fact of being a respected role-model alone can have a significant effect.

But I believe teachers would benefit from the inclusion of eco-focussed content in training courses and in-service TD events.  The purpose of such activities would be to Inspire, to Inform and to help Implement action on these issues. In order to inspire our students, we need to be inspired ourselves.  In order to be able to inform them, we need to be informed ourselves.  In order to implement action, we need access to the pedagogical materials which are available, and to produce new ones.  In so doing, we would be forming a cadre of eco-literate teachers.

Here are some ideas for teachers to explore.  I have had to be selective here but you can find more ample material in this article, which has extensive bibliographical and resource links:

Language Teachers as Eco-activists: From talking the talk to walking the walk.

Journal of World Languages. Vol 8, Issue 2.  2022. 



Teachers/trainees can be encouraged to explore some of the following.  I have only given sample examples to get you started – there are far more resources in each category in the article cited above:

Popular songs:

Poems: 9 Poems about climate change. 

Video games:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2022.   Climate change. (accessed 27 January 2022).

Films /DVDs: Connellan, Shannon. 2020. 20 climate change documentaries you need to watch because this planet is NOT fine.  (accessed 27 January 2022).

TED Talks:  2022. A collection of TED Talks (and more) on the topic of environment. (accessed 27 January 2022).

Cartoons, Jokes, Graffiti:  Make Change. 2021. The best cartoons to fight climate change. (accessed 27 January 2022).

Plays:  Warwick. 2022. Climate change plays.
(accessed 27 January 2022).

Novels:  J.G. Ballard. (1962)  The Drowned World.  London: Berkley Books.

               Raymond Briggs. (1986)  When the Wind Blows.  Penguin.

Collecting quotations:  For example, ‘We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.’  Barack Obama.

Biographies of Eco-activists: For example, Emily Hunter and Farley Mowat  (2011)  Next Eco-Warriors: 20 Young Women and Men Who Are Saving the Planet: 22 Young Women and Men Who are Saving the Planet. Conari Press.

Apart from raising enthusiasm, the teachers would also be building up a resource bank to draw on for future classes.



Here the main focus would be on researching the books and articles and the organisations and projects with up-to-date information about Global Warming and related issues.  Here are some ideas:

Directed reading, where teachers/trainees each read a title and report back on it to a group.  Short texts would be the best place to begin, as in the Penguin Green Ideas series.

Book circles, where everyone reads the same book and meets at agreed intervals to discuss it.  This would be the opportunity to expose teachers/ trainees to some of the seminal titles available.  These might include The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change (Godrej 2001). With time, trainees can be asked to read longer, more demanding titles, such as Emmot’s 10 Billion (2013),  Klein’s This Changes Everything (2014), Maniaque-Benton’s The Whole Earth Field Guide (2016), Berners-Lee’s There is no Planet B (2019) and Wallace-Webb’s The Uninhabitable Earth (2019). (See References)


Web searches

Projects to build resource/information banks.  

Teachers/Trainees are assigned specific areas to research. These could include: Water supply and use, Power supply and use, Food production, distribution and consumption, Transport, Housing, Waste disposal, UN Sustainable Development Goals, Sea-level rises, Marine pollution, Re-wilding, De-forestation (and re-forestation), Re-cycling, etc. They then combine their lists into resource banks on each theme.

They could also research ‘green’ accreditation schemes for schools, such as Green Standard Schools:  or BCorp:

They could research organisations with eco-aims, for example: 

Climate Justice. 

Extinction Rebellion.

Friends of the Earth.


Developing Responsible Global Citizens Project 

They could build a resource bank of published eco-teaching materials and resourcesThere are now a variety of such resources, including books:

Maley, Alan & Nick Peachey. 2015. Integrating global issues in the creative English classroom: With reference to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  London: British Council.

Peachey Publications, Cooperative Learning and the Sustainable Development Goals

and YouTubes and websites, such as

Green Standard Schools.

ELT Footprint.  (accessed 27 January 2022).

The British Council. 2022. Climate resources for school teachers. (accessed 27 January 2022).

In all these activities they would be looking for accessible material offering information about each area, and especially items which could form the basis for classroom teaching materials. The aim is to familiarise trainees with what useful information is available to them, and to learn how to look for information they may need.



Building personal agendas for action based on audits

Over a period of time teachers/ trainees would be invited to conduct personal audits of a range of daily-life issues. For example:

Water use, Energy use, Food production and consumption, Waste creation and disposal, Transport, Clothing production, consumption and disposal, Use of paper and packaging, etc.

It will be helpful to generate a set of questions for each category. For example,

  • Water: Measure how much water you use in a week. How much water do you use in a week for: Drinking? Cooking? Washing? Clothes washing? Toilet use? Watering the garden? Washing your car? How could you reduce your personal water use?  Make a list.

They would bring their answers to their audits at the end of a week for sharing and discussion. After an agreed time, perhaps a month, they repeat the audit and compare their consumption before and after.


From audits to surveys to campaigns

The same principle as personal audits can then be extended to the school or institution, the community and the nation. For example, they can conduct a school audit/survey to report on: Energy use, water consumption, use of paper, waste creation and disposal, use of plastic, etc.  

The results of such surveys can then lead to designing campaigns to improve matters. For example, a campaign to eliminate the use of plastic, or to reduce the use of paper, or electricity.



A project needs to have a concrete outcome. This might be in the form of a report, an information flier or brochure, a poster, a blog post, a video clip, an online interview, a newspaper article, etc. Trainees work in groups of about five to thoroughly research their topic, decide on how they will present findings and prepare the final presentation.

Some possible topics for projects:

  • Prepare a report on which countries have the most effective environmental policies and implementation (e.g., Finland, Costa Rica) and which have the least effective and most damaging policies. (e.g., USA, India).

  • Prepare a class video to show the use and mis-use of water in your community.

  • Prepare a brochure with personal advice on how to reduce consumption of water, power, transport, clothing and/or food.

  • Prepare a brochure with information about which foodstuffs are most environmentally-damaging and with advice on how to limit consumption of these items.

  • Draw up a plan for a family to reduce their environmental footprint. Use the slogan ‘Reduce, re-use, re-purpose, recycle’ as a structure.


Creative writing

Writing from a deeply-held perspective can be a powerful way of confronting the issue. It allows trainees (and learners) to express their deeply-felt fears, emotions and convictions. As Ben Okri recently reminded us, ‘Artists must write as if these are our last days on earth’ (2021). He goes on, ‘If you knew that you were at the last days of the human story, what would you write? How would you write?’ There are already signs of interest in using creative writing as a resource for raising awareness of the issues (Maley 2022). There are ample resources to draw on for techniques for introducing creative writing (Maley and Duff 1989; Maley and Moulding 1985; Spiro 2004). 

Here are some possible starting points:

  • Write a poem to an animal affected by climate change; for example, a bee, a tuna, an ourang-utan, a dead seagull…

  • Write a protest poem about an issue that means a lot to you; for example, de-forestation, litter in public places, the gap between affluent and poor people, marine pollution, famine, death of coral reefs.

  • Write a ‘then-now’ poem about a place that has been changed by ‘development’.

  • Write a question poem to a common object, using all the interrogatives – what, who, where, when, how (much, many, often…), why; for example, a plastic bag, a T-shirt, a mobile phone, a pizza. 


Outside the classroom

We control nothing but we influence everything.   

Brian Klaas

Teachers can also bring pressure to bear in a number of ways.

They can join teachers’ associations and either join or set up Special Interest Groups on Global Issues.  A strikingly effective group of this kind is GILE, which is part of JALT (Japan Association of Language Teachers) .  GILE has been running for over 30 years now and offers teachers support and resources – and is a force for change.

Teachers can also bring pressure to bear on their schools and institutions, both to participate in accreditation schemes, like Green Standard Schools (see above) and to integrate ecological themes into teaching materials and classes.  Some schools and training organisations have embraced the need for eco-action, like The Bridge in Bratislava, which has produced lesson plans tailored to the Council of Europe levels (The Bridge 2023) and NILE in UK, which has produced a set of learning kits 


Teachers can influence publishers to extend the range of their materials to include more genuinely committed ecological themes – going beyond the current tokenism.

And even individual teachers can exert influence through their blogs and websites.  For example,   Harry Waters’ Renewable English, 

They can also exert influence by contributing articles to teacher newsletters, magazines and journals.  HLT Mag is a good example of a journal open to such contributions.

Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet. 

Alice Walker


What factors are preventing us from taking action?

An easy life is rarely meaningful - 

and a meaningful life is rarely easy.  

Oliver North.

Taking action as part of the eco-fightback is not going to be easy.  There are two main sets of negative factors.  One is the prevailing economic-social-political world view.  The other is our own mind-sets.


The economic/social/political system

There are powerful forces and vested interests ranged against anyone taking eco-action.  The prevailing ethos holds that growth is necessary and good for us. Governments continue to pursue economic growth at all costs, regardless of the patent environmental damage this is causing. Growth is in bed with consumerism. We have grown accustomed to wanting things we do not need through the power of commercial advertising (Naish 2009; Wallman 2015).  ‘Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.’ Will Rogers. Consumerism is a necessary partner for the growth model of economics: Two for the price of one.  Buy one, get one free …

Consumerism leads ineluctably to the Throw-away Society. The dominant, richer economies have moved from a society of conservation and respect for scarcity to one of massive waste creation. We are in the grip of neophilia, the mistaken belief that only what is new is of real value. Hence, there is a restless pursuit of more novelty. So, rather than repairing goods, we now tend to throw them away and acquire new ones, thus fuelling the growth model. But this ready availability of new goods blinds us to the environmental costs. 

We also live in a Society of Massive Distraction and Info-glut. We are drowning in information. The advent of the WWW and the Internet, together with the rise of the i-phone, exploited by the hegemony of a few global providers such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. has served to trivialise communication and provides endless fodder to distract almost everyone. We are exposed to ‘news’ 24/7 and to a barrage of mostly superficial ‘entertainment’. This makes clear and focussed thinking difficult. Are we  ‘Amusing ourselves to death’? (Postman 1986). Waving while drowning? Have we literally ‘lost our minds’ or rather given them away?

And as already noted in the introduction, human population growth is now approaching eight billion and is forecast to reach ten billion or more within a matter of years (Emmott 2013). This places an ever-greater stress on available resources. And it is exacerbated by the quite understandable aspirations of poorer groups to attain the levels of consumption of the better-off populations.

Obscene levels of wealth disparity/inequality exacerbate the problem.  In a world where 1% of the global population is responsible for 20% of the pollution, where the top 10% of the global population owns or controls 85% of the total wealth, while the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15%, and where half of the world's net wealth belongs to the top 1%, and the top 30% of adults hold 97% of the total wealth, where the likes of Musk and Bezos can spend billions on a joyride into space while millions die of hunger, the argument for a fairer distribution of resources is indisputable. Yet, if anything, the super-rich get richer by the hour. And they are the ones who are despoiling the planet to the detriment of the majority of humankind.

Vested commercial and political interests are a further obstacle.   It is not in the interests of big business, nor governments, that citizens should be well-informed and critically-inclined. Action to halt or slow climate change is highly uncongenial to the coal, oil, and gas lobbies. Everything is done to obstruct anything which threatens these interests. And in general, governments are complicit with or tolerant of big business.  

Furthermore, the coercive power of governments world-wide makes protest difficult and often dangerous.  Top-down wins nearly every time. And governments do not take kindly to opposition. Such is the power of dominant groups that grass-roots movements, however convincing their arguments and ideas, rarely have the effect they deserve. Political and commercial expediency will most times trump rational decision-making based on the current observable effects of global warming. 

Speed and acceleration is the rule.  A number of writers have drawn attention to ‘the acceleration of just about everything’ (Gleick 1999; Honore 2010; McAlary 2017). Speed leaves ‘no time’ for thinking (Doerr 2021). IWIN (I want it now) is the rule. And this compulsion for immediacy goes hand in hand with a 24/7 world, which never stops for breath (Crary 2013).

Words are rarely accompanied by deeds.  Those in political and commercial authority have a tendency to lull the public’s concerns with well-sounding pronouncements and reassurances. Often this is done intentionally to ensure that no action is taken. And even when statements are made with the best of intentions, they are rarely followed through with effective action. The 28 COP meetings of global leaders bear sorry testimony to this – summarised by Greta Thunberg as ‘Blah, blah, blah.’.

And we live in a Mega world.  Bigger has come to be accepted as better. And much of the world’s economy is now controlled by a few enormously powerful corporations (Schumacher 1993). Shopping is now dominated by the hypermarket and online providers such as Amazon and Wallmart. These corporations now exert political control over democratically-elected governments (Naughton 2021). Agriculture has likewise become dominated by larger and larger units to the detriment of small, environmentally-friendly family farms. Fishing is now the domain of gigantic, factory trawlers which literally hoover up fish indiscriminately and unsustainably.


Our own mindsets


It’s not that I don’t know what to do; it’s that I don’t do what I know.  

Timothy Gallwey.


I am my own worst enemy.  I usually beat myself.  

Timothy Gallwey.

Sadly, most human beings do not always behave in their own long-term best interests.  Here is a list with brief commentaries on the thinking patterns of a majority of people.  Of course, not everyone exhibits all these items, but most of us think in some of these ways for much of the time.

  • Pure ignorance.  Wot? Climate change?  Never heard of it.

  • Denial. It’s simply not true that it’s man-made.

  • Panic.  The prospect is so terrifying, my brain has shut down.

  • Imaginative deficit. I can’t imagine the unimaginable.

  • Displacement.  This only happens to people ‘over there’. I’m all right, Jack…

  • Procrastination.  Scarlett O’Hara syndrome.  ‘I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.’

  • Indifference.  Who cares? ‘Wot’s it got ter do wiv me?’   

  • Shifting responsibility.  I’ll leave it to them to deal withIt’s not my job.

  • Fatalism. There’s nothing I can do about it.

  • Defeatism.  It’s already too late.  We’ve had it, chum.

  • Opting out. What difference could little old me make? 

  • Self-delusion.  Surely it can’t be that bad? 

  • Massive distraction.   Duh… Let’s take a selfie.  How many ‘likes’ have I got today?

  • No time. I’m too busy, busy, busy …

  • Conformism.   It’s not in the rules and regulations…

  • Fear of change.   Don’t rock the boat.

  • Fear of authority.  Better not upset them.

  • Fear for reputation.  What will the neighbours say?

  • Climate change fatigue.  Oh no! Not climate change again!

  • Consumerist mind-set.  I want more and I want it now! 

  • Carpe Diem.  Apres moi, le deluge.  Eat, drink and be merry (and throw the bottles in the river) – for tomorrow, we die.

  • Mistaking talk for action.  They talk :COP- out 28.  Bla, bla, bla …

  • Mistaking the immediate for the important.  Got to get to the shops before they close.

  • What about all the other issues?  What about war? What about inequality? What about …?

  • Compartmentalised thinking.  What’s Global warming got to do with teaching English?

Most of the time, our mental processes are on auto-pilot, so attitudes go unquestioned.  And this makes it difficult for us to take positive action.  It is only when we think our way past these automated thought-habits that we can have an effect.  But we can do it.

Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats: they can do it but they prefer not to.  Daniel Kahneman.

However, despite all the factors stacked against it, I still believe there are signs of change.  More and more people and organisations are waking up.   And as teachers, we can make a difference.

You must go on.  

I can’t go on.  

I’ll go on.  

Samuel Beckett.


I am only one …


Can I save the world?  I’m only one - but I am one.

Can I play a part?  I’m only one - but I am one.


I look around me, see the suffering everywhere.

Can I halt the hunger? I’m only one - but I am one.


I watch the world falling to pieces before my eyes.

Can I stop the rot? I’m only one - but I am one.


War, famine, floods, fires and every kind of horror -

What chance do I have? I’m only one - but I am one.


But one plus one is two, two plus two is four – and soon

We’re a multitude: I’m one, yet so much more than one.

                                                                                               Alan Maley.



Note: These include only works cited in the article.  For more detailed bibliography and resources, see the article by Maley 2022  listed below.

Attenborough, David. 2001. The blue planet. London: BBC.

Berners-Lee, Mike. 2020. There is no planet B. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carson, Rachel. 1962/2000. Silent spring. London: Penguin.

Club of Rome report. 1972.  The limits to growth. Potomac Associates: Universe Books.

Crary, Jonathan. 2013. 24/7: Late capitalism and the ends of sleep. London: Verso.

Doerr, John. 2021. Speed & scale: An action plan for solving our climate crisis now. London: Penguin  Business.

Emmott, Stephen. 2013. 10 billion. London: Penguin.

Gleick, James. 1999. Faster: The acceleration of just about everything. London: Vintage.

Godrej, Nadir. 2001. The no-nonsense guide to climate change. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications Inc.

Gore, Al. 2006. An inconvenient truth. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Honore, Carl. 2010. In praise of slow. London: Orion.

Klein, Naomi. 2014. This changes everything. London: Penguin.

Lovelock, James. 2007. The revenge of Gaia. New York: Basic Books.

Maley, Alan.  2022 Language Teachers as Eco-activists: From talking the talk to walking the walk.  Journal of World Languages. Vol 8, Issue 2.  2022. 

Maley, Alan. 2022. Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maley, Alan and Duff, Alan. 1989. The Inward Ear.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maley, Alan and Moulding Sandra. 1985. Poem into Poem.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maniaque-Benton, Caroline, Donella H. Meadows, Donella H. Meadows, Jørgen Randers & William W. Behrens III. 2016. The whole earth field guide. Cambridge, Mass:MIT 


McAlary, Brooke. 2017. Slow: Simple living for a frantic world. London: Allen & Unwin.

Naish, John. 2009. Enough: Breaking free from the world of excess. London: Hodder and       


Naughton, John. 2021. Can big tech ever be reined in? Observer (21 November, 2021.)

Postman, Neil. 1987. Amusing ourselves to death. London: Methuen.

Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich. 1993. Small is beautiful. London: Vintage.

Spiro, Jane. 2004. Creative Poetry Writing.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Bridge. 2023. Embracing Sustainability in the English Classroom. Bratislava: The Bridge

Thunberg, Greta. 2019. No one is too small to make a difference. London: Penguin.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  2016.  The Paris Agreement.  


Wallace-Wells, David. 2019. The uninhabitable earth. London; Penguin.

Wallman, James. 2015. Stuffocation. London: Penguin.

Tagged  Various Articles 
  • Global Ecological Collapse and the Power of Teachers
    Alan Maley, UK