Western Australia boasts seemingly endless fields of pink, white and yellow everlasting daisies. But while there might seem to be an infinite number, one species in particular is actually endangered. The showy everlasting (or Schoenia filifolia subsp. subulifolia) once grew in the Mid West of WA. Now it is found in just a few spots around the tiny inland town of Mingenew.
But a WA primary school is helping my colleagues and me save the beautiful showy everlasting. With new seed banks, a genetic project and a whole lot of digging, we’re hopeful we can keep this gorgeous native daisy around for the next generation.
The first European to collect the showy everlasting was eminent botanist James Drummond, most likely in the mid-1800s. Initially the species was placed in the Helichrysum family (a group of plants also known as everlastings), but in 1992 botanist Paul Wilson formally described the species based on a specimen collected from Geraldton.
The genus name Schoenia is in honour of the 19th-century eye specialist and botanical illustrator Johannes Schoen, and the species name filifolia refers to its long, slender leaves.
Everlastings get their name from the fact that that the flowers hold their colour long after they have been picked and dried. The species is known as the showy everlasting because its large, brightly coloured flowers put on a spectacular show when in bloom.
The showy everlasting is an annual plant, growing around 30cm high, with long narrow leaves. Its bright yellow flowers bloom from August to October. The showy everlasting has two closely related sister species: the more common Schoenia filifolia subsp. filifolia, found throughout the WA Wheatbelt, and Schoenia filifolia subsp. arenicola, which grows around Carnarvon but hasn’t been collected for decades. The main differences between the showy everlasting and its sister species are the much larger flowers and the shape of the base of the flower, which is hemispherical rather than vase-shaped.
Collections of the showy everlasting housed in the Western Australian Herbarium indicate the species was once more widespread. It’s likely land clearing for farms and infrastructure led to the disappearance of the species from much of its known range.
It was listed as endangered in 2003. At that time the species was found in just three locations. At each of these sites, threats such as chemical drift from nearby agricultural land, grazing by animals, competition from weeds, and increasing soil salinity were all jeopardising the survival of the species.
Unfortunately, by the late 2000s two of these three populations had succumbed to these threats and were lost. However, continued search efforts since then have uncovered two new populations. The showy everlasting is hanging on, but a concerted conservation effort is needed to ensure its survival in the wild.
To ensure the long-term survival of the showy everlasting, we need to establish new populations – a process called translocation.
As an insurance policy, in 2007 seeds were collected and frozen in the Threatened Flora Seed Vault at the Western Australia Seed Centre. In 2015 my colleagues and I used some of these seeds in small-scale translocation trials, successfully getting new plants to grow, flower and seed in three small populations.
Despite this success, we knew the populations would need to be much, much larger and we would need many more populations to ensure persistence of the species. And for that we needed more information about the showy everlasting’s biology, and larger amounts of seed.
Currently a genetic study is underway to look at the difference between the showy everlasting in different locations and its sister species. As part of my PhD study with Murdoch University, I am running a glasshouse experiment to see whether different populations of the showy everlasting can cross and produce viable seed, and whether there are benefits or risks to such crosses.
The initial translocation trials have proved we can successfully establish new populations, but we’re currently limited by the amount of available seed. This is because our trials showed the most efficient way to establish the showy everlasting is by planting seeds directly into the ground. However, this process uses a lot of seeds – more than we have stored in the Seed Vault. Rather than denude the wild populations, we needed a new source.
Fortunately, at this time Andrew Crawford, manager of the Threatened Flora Seed Vault at the Western Australian Seed Centre, was approached by the principal of the Woodlupine Primary School, Trevor Phoebe. He was looking for a meaningful way to involve his students with plant conservation. This led to the establishment of a seed production area at the school which aims to grow and harvest seed of the showy everlasting. The students at the school are involved with planting, monitoring and taking care of the plants, and will help collect the seed when they ripen.
It is still early days for this project, however early signs are promising. Seedlings have established well and have begun flowering. Seed collection is planned for later in the year.
The seed harvested will be used in the future to boost plant numbers in the existing populations, and to establish new sites, hopefully securing this beautiful species in the wild so that everyone can enjoy the showy everlasting for decades to come.
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This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our society today, so you would think it would be an important topic for study in the school curriculum.
But in Australia that’s not the case. Schools and teachers are largely left to fend for themselves and use other available resources if they want to raise the issue with students.
Calls for climate change to be part of the curricula for primary and secondary education were detailed in 2010 when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) established the Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development (CCESD) program. It was part of the organisation’s effort to increase “climate literacy” among young people.
Under the Paris Agreement Work Program, countries have agreed to develop extensive education programs and to promote public participation in decision-making.
Some countries – such as Vietnam, the Philippines, South Africa and China – already have national education programs addressing climate change.
Australia is not one of them.
Australia has not designed, implemented nor funded a coherent educational approach to our climate emergency. That’s despite the fact poll after poll of Australians show the majority want more action on climate change.
The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience identifies education in schools as a priority in understanding risks of climate change. Yet education departments at state and federal level show few public signs of creating a coordinated curriculum approach.
Explicit links to the topic of climate change in national and state curricula are only found within the senior secondary (Years 11 and 12) and secondary (Years 7 to 10) Humanities, Geography and Science learning areas. Some are compulsory and some optional depending on the school and year group.
We can find no explicit mention of climate change in the primary (Years 1-6) curriculum, though students learn related topics on endangered species, renewable energy and natural disasters.
We predict that continuing curriculum redevelopment will focus more effectively on the climate crisis as its effects become more pronounced. But the current piecemeal approach doesn’t address the problem at scale.
For now, climate change is hinted at but generally unnamed in school curricula. Climate change education is certainly not mandated, nor is it directly nor sufficiently funded.
In the past 20 years climate change education has been in and out of the formal curriculum depending on the whims of government.
In 1999, the then Liberal environment minister, Robert Hill, released the Today Shapes Tomorrow discussion paper. This led to the Environmental Education for a Sustainable Future: National Action Plan, which launched the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI).
AuSSI placed the learner at the centre of the inquiry process for transformational change, which is the ideal approach to climate change education.
A second national plan, Living Sustainably: the Australian Government’s National Action Plan for Education for Sustainability, was released in 2009. This revealed how Australia was educationally preparing itself for a systemic shift. Except that it wasn’t.
Early in 2010, the Australian government abruptly withdrew funding and support for AuSSI without explanation. The first and second National Action Plans were abandoned.
No overarching, national coordination has been in place since. Australian schools have been pretty much left to their own devices when it comes to teaching the climate emergency.
Children and young people are presently reliant on the initiative of teachers, parents, principals and professional associations to introduce and maintain sustainability programs to learn about their futures in school time.
Their alternatives are to rely on peers and on information from community and non-government organisation (NGO) networks.
For example, many excellent resources have been developed for schools, such as CSIRO’s Sustainable Futures, Cool Australia, Future Earth, the Climate Reality Project, Climate Watch and Scootle. There are also the successful Reef Guardian and Sea Country programs.
Catholic schools can draw inspiration from the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“on care for our common home”), and most schools promote energy, waste and water conservation.
In the last decade, state and federal governments have shied away from systematic, climate change education. That’s despite the real risks to all Australian children and young people who are facing the prospect of diminished lives without climate stability.
There is much to be done within the education sector to maturely and responsibly address the risks of climate change. Denial, prevarication and obfuscation do not alter thermodynamic reality.
Education is central to climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience. As effects become more frightening, it is reasonable to ask: what is being done about recognising and systematically supporting climate change education in state and national school curricula?
Unfortunately, the short answer is not much. This may be one reason school students are taking to the streets on September 20 this year.
This article was co-authored by Angela Colliver, an education for sustainability specialist who designs educational programs and curriculum resources for Australian schools.
On March 15 2019 thousands of students across Australia will skip school and join the global strike for climate action. This is the second time students have taken to the streets to demand more government action on climate change. Last time they did so, in November 2018, the federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, told them:
The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like, up in a line asking for a handout, not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.
Politicians are up in arms about tomorrow’s protest too. New South Wales is just over a week away from a state election where climate change is a key issue. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has slammed as “appalling” comments made by Opposition Leader Michael Daley in support of the strike.
Such attitudes do worse than just dismissing the students’ voices and their message of urgency. They fly in the face of international research and the aims of Australia’s own curriculum.
By seeking to understand a global issue such as climate change, taking action and clearly articulating their perspective, the students are demonstrating the skills, values and attitudes the curriculum states should constitute the aim of education. These are also the attributes employers look for.
The Australian curriculum is based on the Melbourne Declaration on Goals for Young Australians, signed in 2008 by all state and territory ministers. Its second goal is to graduate students who are “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”.
To help achieve this, the Australian curriculum includes a civics and citizenship strand in its humanities and social science subject. This encourages an inquiry-based approach, presenting students with multiple perspectives and empowering them to reach their own conclusions.
The curriculum also has three cross-curriculum priorities, which address contemporary issues such as sustainability, and seven general capabilities. The Australian curriculum shape paper describes the general capabilities as “21st-century skills”, designed to foster critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and personal and social capability.
A 2014 review of the Australian curriculum concluded with overwhelming support to not only keep but further develop general capabilities that reflect 21st-century skills.
Canavan’s dole-queue comments also contradict research that identifies these general capabilities, sometimes described as “soft skills”, as the desired graduate attributes sought by employers in Australia and across the world. These skills are also acknowledged as equipping students for contemporary, transitory career patterns that require high levels of communication, mobility and critical and ethical thinking.
When the students marched in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said they should be doing “more learning in schools and less activism”. But international research clearly shows that, by preparing for and participating in this strike, students are learning the skills of active citizenship, which they will carry into their adult life.
They are learning how to be the type of citizen we need to achieve the global sustainability goals. They are learning how to work together to effect change.
Australian students joining the movement, started by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, also reflects research showing young people have no faith in politicians and the political system. This is why they are taking direct, grassroots approaches to political, social and environmental issues.
The students’ website, rallying the support of their peers, explains their reasoning for walking out of their classrooms:
In Australia, education is viewed as immensely important, and a key way to make a difference in the world. But simply going to school isn’t doing anything about climate change. And it doesn’t seem that our politicians are doing anything.
By making this choice, students are demonstrating their worldview and understanding of contemporary global issues, their ability to think critically and examine problems, to manage complexity, to communicate and work effectively with others, as well as values and attitudes that focus on the common good beyond their own self-interest. And they are taking action.
In other words, they are displaying all the elements of global competence, as identified by UNESCO and the OECD. In doing so they are fulfilling the Melbourne Declaration’s goal and acting as “active and informed citizens” of both their local and global communities.
Today, at least 50 rallies planned across Australia are expected to draw thousands of students who are walking out of school to protest climate change inaction.
These Australian students join children from over 82 countries who are striking to highlight systemic failure to address climate change.
But the strikes represent more than frustration and resistance. They are evidence of an even bigger process of transformation. My research investigates how young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.
Striking children are experiencing “existential whiplash”, caught between two forces. One is a dominant culture driven by fossil fuel consumption that emphasises individual success, encapsulated by Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s remarks that striking students will never get a “real job”:
The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.
On the other hand is the mounting evidence that climate change will make parts of the planet inhospitable to human (and other) life, and fundamentally change our way of life in the future.
Children are up to date with the facts: The Earth is currently experiencing its 6th mass extinction; Australia has just had its hottest summer on record; and experts warn we have just 11 years left to ensure we avoid the misery of exceeding 1.5 degrees of planetary warming.
Meanwhile many Australian adults have been living what sociologist Kari Norgaard terms a “double reality”: explicitly acknowledging that climate change is real, while continuing to live as though it is not. But as climatic changes intensify and interrupt our business-as-usual lifestyles, many more Australians are likely to experience the climate trauma that school strikers are grappling with.
Confronting the realities of climate change can lead to overwhelming anxiety and grief, and of course, for those of us in high carbon societies, guilt. This can be extremely uncomfortable. These feelings arise partly because climate change challenges our dominant cultural narratives, assumptions and values, and thus, our sense of self and identity. Climate change challenges the beliefs that:
Faced with these challenges, it can seem easier in the short term to turn away than to try to respond. But the short term is not an option for young people.
Striking students are calling out that simply standing by means being complicit in climate change. The school strikers, and those who support them, are deeply anguished about what a business-as-usual future might hold for them and others.
Striking students’ signs proclaim “no graduation on a dead planet” and “we won’t die of old age, we will die from climate change”. This is not hyperbole but a genuine engagement with what climate change means for their lives, as well as their deaths.
Notably, they are openly discussing and promoting engagement with climate distress as a means of inspiring action. As Greta Thunberg — who started the school strikes for climate — said in January:
I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.
They know certain possibilities have already been stolen from them by the older generations. Rather than trying to hold onto dominant cultural narratives about their future, striking students are letting them go and crafting alternatives. They are enduring the pain of the climate crisis, while labouring to generate desirable and possible, though always uncertain, futures.
By connecting with other concerned young people across the world, this movement is creating a more collective and ecologically attuned identity.
They are both more ambitious and humble than our dominant (non)responses to climate change. This is palpable in signs like “Mother Nature does not need us; We need Mother Nature” and “Seas are rising, so are we”.
What will eventually happen – in terms of both cultural and climatic change – is of course, unknowable. But it is promising that children are already forging new identities and cultures that may have a chance of survival on our finite blue planet.
As adults, we would do well to recognise the necessity of facing up to the most grotesque elements of climate change. Perhaps then we too may step up to the challenge of cultural transformation.