chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up home circle comment double-caret-left double-caret-right like like2 twitter epale-arrow-up text-bubble cloud stop caret-down caret-up caret-left caret-right file-text


Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



The Power of One – A Voice

by Michael kenny
Language: EN
Document available also in: CS EL DE PL HU RO

/epale/en/file/epale-climate-change-adult-learningEPALE Climate Change Adult Learning

EPALE Climate Change Adult Learning


Adult and Community Educator Michael Kenny from Maynooth University reflects on the role of adult learning in making us environmentally responsible citizens and helping us adapt to climate change.

Adult education has not confronted, as yet, the world challenge of climate change. While over 97% of the scientific community tell us the evidence is incontrovertible and climate science has achieved an unprecedented degree of robustness, debate in the adult and vocational education community skirts around the topic or gives precedent to other ‘more important’ issues. Are we climate deniers? Or am I wrong?

While the time spent on adult and vocational education policy issues such as participation, funding, inclusion, progression, integration, etc., is very valuable, policy advances will be made redundant if we blindly continue to pollute our world. This concerns me! Does it concern you?

I find it difficult to think about the implications of fundamental climate shifts. I have a comfortable life and I have positive expectations for my next generations. I am so positive about the future that my life is devoted to encouraging others to enhance their lives through learning and to use their learning to break out of their poverty trap. Now, I am challenged by the possibility, the probability, indeed the inevitability, that the bright future I peddled to others will actually be a challenging if not bleak future.

As a science graduate I know much of the science that indicates a global climate shift. I have read the books and listened to the speakers. But it took the impact of one person, Greta Thunberg[1] (see Greta’s TED talk, 11 minutes), to challenge me.

Greta could be my daughter, or at my age, my granddaughter. She has no agenda other than her future but she has the courage to name it as she sees it. She is saying what’s the good of all this school learning if they do nothing with what they have learned?

I know the town of Beira in Mozambique and the Nsange district in Southern Malawi. As a humanitarian worker I’ve spent years in that part of the world. 1.4 million people, with 0.4 million children in that area (394 square kilometres or 152 square miles) of South Eastern Africa have lost everything due to a freak cyclone and floods. Everything includes their subsistence food crops for the coming year. They are left destitute. Three years ago I was with flood refugees in the Beira area of Mozambique.  I remember them asking me “Where did the water come from?”.  They were shell-shocked then.  Now it is worse.

Flood Mozambique

The extent of flooding, depicted in red, around the port city of Beira, Mozambique, on March 19, 2019. European Space Agency


Where are we as adult educators in this? Have we a response?

In his blog article from November 2018 Professor Alan Tuckett wrote ‘As the UN Sustainable Development Goals demonstrate, dealing with climate change involves adults learning and adapting behaviour’ and ‘… changes impact hardest on people with low skills, people out of the labour market, migrants who have yet to develop fluent English, and many people with disabilities’. He goes on to say: ‘… the time has come for a rapid expansion of investment by government, employers and individuals alike.’

There is so much more I could add:

  • 62 million people were affected in 2018 by natural hazards mostly associated with extreme weather and climate events.
  • 1,600 deaths are associated with heat waves and wildfires in the US, Europe and Japan.
  • Etc., etc.

But enough! A blog post should raise a question, encourage critical reflection, and invite a response – even a One word response.

Greta showed me the power of One. An honest One with a critical voice.

I am re-evaluating my input as One adult educator.


[1] Greta Thunberg is a Swedish schoolgirl known for having initiated the school strike for climate movement formed in November 2018 and trended globally after the COP24 conference in December 2018.

/epale/en/file/michael-kennyMichael Kenny

Michael Kenny
Michael Kenny is an Adult and Community Educator with a particular interest in engaged participation. His upbringing is farming and rural within a West of Ireland migrant family. His higher education is an agricultural science degree (BAgrSc 1980), rural development masters (MAgrSc 1990), and higher diploma in higher education (HDHE1998). His experience is youth work, community work in Ireland and Africa (7 years), and extensive engagement with formal, non-formal and voluntary rural and urban organisations.
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Epale SoundCloud Share on LinkedIn
Refresh comments Enable auto refresh

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8
  • Michael kenny's picture
    I mentioned (See previous post: As an update: On Monday 29th) that elected Councillors/Municipal Authority elected representatives in Wicklow (a county in the East coast of Ireland) will debate on April 29th a motion to declare a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency.

    Please note that Wicklow County Council has become the first local authority in Ireland to declare “a biodiversity and climate-change emergency” (See This motion recognises the need to respond more urgently to the threat of climate breakdown and the global decline of species.

    The unanimous decision of municipal councillors was taken on April 29th coincides with similar declarations made in the UK, Scottish and Welsh parliaments – and by cities such as London and Manchester.

    Councillors were gently pushed to adopt this motion after they were briefed by local students who participated in recent school strikes for climate action in Wicklow and all over Ireland. The students recent school strikes for climate action was inspired by Greta Tunberg ( speaking out on climate justice.

    We are seeing one of the benefits of being part of Europe, of having a global perspective, and of learning from each other.

    I made my own contribution to the understanding of elected Councillors/Municipal Authority elected representatives in Wicklow by writing to each councillor in advance of the vote. Here is the text of what I wrote:
    I write to you in relation to the upcoming debate on Monday 29th April, on a motion to declare a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency prompted, I understand, by Wicklow youth recent Global Climate Strike on March 15th, which urged our politicians to start acting. I understand your motion is a first step in recognising that Wicklow, Ireland and the world is facing ecological challenge of great import, which threatens life on the planet. If the motion was passed it would urge Wicklow County Council to act to protect and re-wild Wicklow as if there is an emergency. If passed, it would also be the first local authority in Ireland to do so – a brave step.

    I am an academic in the Department of Adult & Community Education, Maynooth University (Ollscoil na hÉireann Má Nuad). As you will see from my attached biography I am a rural farmers’ son and I have extensive experience in Africa where I see the horrible effects of climate change. I am an adult educator in Ireland and indeed have engaged with some of the elected officials and staff (Deirdre Whitfield, Margaret Malone) of Wicklow County Council.

    Being informed for this debate is essential. I wish to refer you to a readable paper by my colleague Dr Conor Murphy of ICARUS in Maynooth University. This paper from dropbox at and the associated video from the Citizens Assembly will provide relevant information for you.

    Dr. Conor Murphy - Session 1: The Science of Climate Change - Citizens' Assembly Session 1:The Science of Climate Change - Dr. Conor Murphy, Maynooth University - Eighth Meeting of the Citizens' Assembly - How the State can make Ireland a leader ... 

    As a former town councillor ( I know the leadership impact of an adopted County Council motion.

    Lastly, I have no hesitation in saying I worry for my grandchildren.

    I hope this information guides you and I wish you well.

    Yours sincerely
    This may be of assistance to EPALE Blog readers. 

    Comment and feedback welcomed.

  • Marta Kosińska's picture
    What is striking for me, writing from the perspective of citizen of Poland and EPALE Ambassador, is the very difference of the basic experiences of adult educators. In the central Europe (and it is still Europe) the every day life experience of climate change is far more difficult and urgent than in the Western countries. So I could not write "I have a comfortable life and I have positive expectations for my next generations", because I have not theese, and in my everyday life I breathe very bad, polluted air, and eat very bad food (although trying to find a good one). My conclusion is, that depending on what place on the Earth we live, we have very different basic experiences about a climate change and these determine tools of adult environmental education and its basic critical categories we construct. Sometimes we have to refer or even create some kind of environmental imagination, and sometimes we don't have to do this, because we deal with very hard everyday experience of polluted environment. Education based on experience and education based on imagination - maybe as critical educators we should build coalitions to exhange these perspectives in Europe?
  • Michael kenny's picture

    Dear Marta, Apologies for my delay in replying.

    Indeed those of us who live in Western Europe and particularly those of us living on the most Westerly island (Ireland) fanned by moist South-Westerly prevailing wind and kept warm by the North Atlantic Drift current are not concientised fully about the impacts of climate change. Many of us think this is an issue for others to solve. Further, many adults, even parents, thank that they can pass this issue on to the next generation with no guilt for having done so little. This was said to me on a number of occasions.

    I note that there are a small but powerful group in Ireland who are getting increasingly angry that there is no much talk about climate change because they are deniers. I presume many others are seeing the same.

    Martha, you are living with day to day consequences of environmental degradation. You say “In the central Europe (and it is still Europe) the every day life experience of climate change is far more difficult and urgent than in the Western countries.” You also say “… I could not write ‘I have a comfortable life and I have positive expectations for my next generations’".

    The recent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) See and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) See warnings add greater urgency to our task.

    In defence of balance and positivity I say we must focus on what we can do. You say “… maybe as critical educators we should build coalitions to exchange these perspectives in Europe?”. I agree.

    As educators we are leaders. We must be ahead of the population and, in this case, be ahead of the politicians. We must know our data/information. We must insert the information in the courses we teach and we must educate a critically conscious people who will lead the response.

    Thank you for your post Martha.

  • Michael kenny's picture
    As an update:

    On Monday 29th April, elected Councillors/Local authority elected representatives in Wicklow (a county in the east coast of Ireland) will debate a motion to declare a Climate And Biodiversity Emergency. This is largely due to the amazing efforts by County Wicklow young in the recent Global Climate Strike on March 15th, which have urged our politicians to start acting.

    Supported by President Higgins and former President Mary Robinson, this motion would be a first step in recognising that Wicklow, Ireland and the world is facing ecological collapse, which threatens all life on the planet. If passed, it would force Wicklow County Council to act as if there is an emergency and to start protecting and rewilding Wicklow. If passed, it would also be the first local authority in Ireland to do this, and would put pressure on other councils to follow.

    This is a very important step - Councillors need to know they have our support.

    You will find a very succinct and interesting paper from my colleague Conor murphy of ICARUS at short paper to the citizens assembly
    The associated video is also online 

  • Simon BROEK's picture
    Very thought-provoking blog Michael! I am wondering whether climate change as such should be a central topic, or whether this should be dealt with in a more holistic way under critical thinking: interpret information about the world around us; question your own views and beliefs; and change your behaviour to match with what you - after critical analysis - think is best. This would apply to climate change, but also to how people behave on social media, think about society and democratic values.
  • Aisha SMITH's picture
    If you'd like to connect with adult education practitioners who teach about the environment (and/or STEM), you can join the Community Practice Group called "Environment and Stem learning", set up by EPALE UK Ambassador, Alison McLachlan - find out more about Alison on the UK NSS page (under the 'About EPALE' - 'EPALE in your country' tab). 
  • Michael kenny's picture

    Thank you for your comment Simon. I had considered developing your train of thought in the blog post but it is better now that you have taken it up. A more holistic way under critical thinking and interpreting information about the world around us is always better. Indeed our approach should be based on problem pausing and problem solving saw that education for adults is about the here and now problems that people face. Theoretically I agree. But I am concerned that we years adult educators are not taking this challenge adequately seriously or urgently. We need a mass mobilisation of adult educators who will place our understanding critical assessment of the impact of climate change within every module we teach formerly, non formerly, and informally. I suggest “… climate change as such should be a central topic” but embedded within philosophy, sociology, cultural learning, agriculture, engineering, music, physical education, etc. We do this anyway because we bring our norms to learners unconsciously.  So why not do this with one of the greatest present challenge to humanity.

    Thank you.


  • Michael kenny's picture

    Dear Aisha, Greetings I apologise for my delay in responding to a year post. Indeed I would be keen to link with the Community Practice Group called "Environment and Stem learning". It is these kind of linkages that are very important for our collective success as educators. This is evidence of the important networking role of EPALE.

    Do you have a direct link as I did not understand your directions above?  Thank you. Michael