‘I can’t trust the ground I walk on’: Growing up in aftershock

An email from my New Zealander friend and fellow academic Bronwyn Hayward jolted me out of my own petty inbox/to do list anxieties:

‘News out today confirms we are now in an unprecedented situation… here in Christchurch we’ve had , 7000 (aftershocks). It seems a dense seismic network is rupturing under the city (10 quakes last night alone- the longest night of the year-mid winter- kids all home from school – the whole city very stressed)’.

She goes on in a second email: ‘the 10 last night varied in intensity from strong to minor – we slept through the minor! My elderly mum has given up sleeping with her bike helmet by her bed thank goodness!-‘ After the first major earthquake in New Zealand Bronwyn sent a very funny email about how her university was moving into tents and that she was going to be given the chance to perform her lectures in a Circus Big Top. But the events also gave her a more lively research case study than she would have wanted, for her work focuses on resilience and citizenship, mostly in relation to children and environmental issues. You can see a very smart delivery of her argument about how emergency situations create an opportunity to rethink basic principles and rebuild things for the better here: http://growing-greens.blogspot.com/.

She connects resilience among young people to the quality of their environmental education and experiences of nature, and of democracy. Bronnie notes that most of the 1.2bn teenagers in the world are losing physical access to open spaces. The top fact I took away from it is that in London each child has access to an area no bigger than a kitchen table as outdoor playspace that they can call their own. But her argument isn’t just about clearing a few more play areas and throwing money at city farms (though both would be a mighty good investment). She suggests that:

‘we are depoliticising sustainability and ignoring or failing to connect environmental education with the major political and economic issues facing youth that drive environment degradation (too much recycling (and) not enough critical thinking and activism!)… I connect resilience among young people to the quality of their democracies and economies as well as environmental education and experiences of nature.’

There are ruptures – physical, political, economic, being experienced by young people all over the world. It is in the way of things that they will play the largest role in remaking the world as time goes by, but it is also the case that older generations hold enormous influence over the range of capabilities available to the young. Bronwyn’s work, and the state of the place where she is doing it, leaves me thinking hard about what kinds of things need to flow between generations to support more resilient societies.

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