‘Young people are looking for hope’ – Former Sheffield teacher praises children’s climate concern

A former Sheffield science teacher who went on to lead environmental policy in the city says leaders must listen to the voices of the young if a climate catastrophe is to be avoided.

Friday, 4th October 2019, 3:22 pm
Updated Monday, 14th October 2019, 6:48 pm
Youth for Climate Protest, Sheffield City Centre…..Pic Steve Ellis

Steve Byers, aged 66, worked at Myers Grove School - now Forge Valley - from the late 70s to the early 90s.

He then joined Sheffield Council to work on environmental policy across the organisation and worked there until he retired in 2012.

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Steve with two of his grandchildren and his wife Sally.

Now living in Bradwell in the Peak District, he has maintained his passion for the planet, and sees great hope in the recent school strike which saw thousands of young people demonstrate in Sheffield and across the world.

He said: “Young people are looking for hope, that is what they want.

“I think Greta Thurnberg says it exactly as kids think it. But some people are nervous about what she says because they know it is the truth.

“In terms of people my age we remember the fear we had of nuclear war. If people want to know what kids are thinking they should think about that.

“But it isn’t just a few bombs this time. It is the whole life support system on earth.”

A scientist by trade, he has no time for those who would doubt the science behind climate change.

“In Sheffield we have lots of experts and a museum which has one of the best records of the city’s climate there is that shows a noticeable increase in temperature since the 1800s,” said Steve.

“The question of why for climate change has been answered firmly. The question now is how we address it.”

“When you get old like me and you listen to the arguments you are actually worried about it. If someone said you don’t have to worry anymore that would be a relief.”

Put in this context, he says, September’s global school strike seems all the more urgent.

“The strike was more than just the young but the worry and the fear the children have made me as a grandparent stop and think,” he said.

“When you get older you realise the problem is probably not going to affect me but my children and in particular my grandchildren are going to see lots of problems that we have created for them.

“It is very thought provoking for the older generation because you like to think you are going to leave the world a better place.”

As well as cutting down on pollution and moving to a carbon neutral economic system, Steve is passionate about conserving wildlife, and tries to live in a way which encourages biodiversity.

He and his wife meticulously record the wildlife in their garden, finding 22 species of butterflies this year, and also try to grow their own food.

“Anybody can do it,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a small or a big garden you can make a difference by planting the right things in the right place.”

Despite leaving the organisation seven years ago, he thinks Sheffield Council still has a vital role to play in the fight against climate change, but sadly its ability to affect change has been hampered by a decade of austerity.

A case in point is the eco-schools project which he introduced to Sheffield in 2004.

Sheffield was once at the forefront of a movement which includes thousands of schools all over the world, but everyone Steve once worked with on the project has now left the council.

Nevertheless, he passionately believes schools are still the best breeding grounds for the people who will eventually create the change that is needed.

“Schools are about raising kids to go out in the world. They often know more about the dangers we face than adults.

“Schools are these oases of common sense and we need to listen to them.”