• Paddy Shanahan
  • 6 min read

SEAI Emerging Sustainable Energy Champion for 2021 Paddy Shanahan, from Blackrock College in Dublin, shares his experience of learning more about climate and biodiversity at the Green School in Bali.

My name is Paddy Shanahan, and in 2021 I won the Emerging Sustainable Energy Champion of Ireland award which was totally unexpected, and this is the story of how it came to be.

I found out about the awards as part of my research for my school project on ways to make my school more energy efficient. Aoife Cannon of the SEAI told me about the grant scheme for energy efficiency and retrofitting in schools and sent me lots of cool information. This is a really important area as lighting alone can account for up to 40% of a school’s energy use.

I first started to really understand environmental issues in 4th class after joining the Green Schools committee at Willow Park School when I brought a bio bottle to school made from sugarcane, which became the official school bottle. With the encouragement of my teacher, I was selected as one of the 157 candidates to join the Youth Assembly on Climate Change in Dail Eireann 2018 which was an amazing experience where we got to learn so much from working in groups with other candidates and presenting our ideas in the Dail.

Through the SEAI I also met Patrick Kirwin who is involved with the Irish Schools Sustainability Network. He was looking for contributors for an event he was putting together with other educators across Ireland called the Climate and Nature Summit for schools to run during COP26 to explain to Irish school kids what was going on at COP26.

His aim was to teach students across Ireland about the climate emergency through a series of sessions on different topics. I spoke 3 times at the summit about my journey, climate anxiety and “education revolution”, what we need to learn to tackle the climate problems we are facing. It was a really great experience to make the videos and see them broadcast during the summit, as well as to meet more people doing amazing things to help the climate. Clover Hogan was one of those people, who talked about the importance of sustainable education and new business practices at the summit and explained how a company’s green credentials were becoming vital, or detrimental to their success, and she credited this information, and her own education, to the ‘Green School’ in Bali, Indonesia.

 Green Schoolis an international, world-renowned school that prides itself on its eco education and philosophy, situated in Bali, Indonesia.

Green School in Bali
Green School in Bali
‘In Green School, we believe that students learn more from how they are taught than from what they are taught. Our pedagogical belief is that learning is most impactful when it is: holistic, inquiry-based, real, interconnected, collective, challenging, democratic, interpersonal, iterative, safe, and lifelong’.
Green School, Bali

I have loved the ISU (integrated study unit) programme at Green School on bio epoxy resin which can replace petroleum based resin, which is carcinogenic and very bad for the environment. I learned all about its properties and how to make it by create a hammock for the many cats that wander through the school. I called it a “Cammock”!

Green School follows the Finnish education model, which means no homework, no exams, and no uniform - it was designed as a contrast to regular schools, with key distinctions like the open classrooms, high treetop settings, the surrounding jungles and wilderness, and of course, the buildings which are almost entirely built of bamboo. These differences allow students to work far more efficiently and creatively in their classes and projects.  I was hooked and really wanted to go.  My family and I were fortunate enough to be able to move to Indonesia for a year, it took a lot of convincing but eventually we convinced my brother and father It was a good idea – (now my dad doesn’t want to leave!).

After a long application process, my brother and I got places in the school and my award from the SEAI helped a lot. One month later we were on the plane headed to Jakarta, the capitol of Indonesia.

I have now lived in Bali for 7 months and have just started my third term in Green School.   I am learning so much about the world, our climates, biodiversity, and culture thanks to studying climate science in school, which is called GREEN STUDIES. I have travelled to Borneo and seen the destruction of the jungle forest to make way for palm oil. Nearly the whole island is now given over to Palm Oil. I met with local people and the indigenous Dayak tribe people whose way of life is now very different. They are mostly sad their environment has changed to the way it is now but they need money from palm oil to survive. The effect of palm oil on Borneo has been catastrophic not only in terms of deforestation and destruction of wildlife habitats, (particularly the endangered Orangutan), but also because the rain forests and peatlands of Borneo are much needed “carbon sinks” which when burned to clear the land for palm oil resulted in a massive carbon release which exceeded the entire carbon output of Europe, making Borneo the 4th largest carbon producer oworldwide. I want to raise awareness of this terrible catastrophe wherever I can, but mostly to young people like myself.

Emerging Sustainable Energy Champion Paddy Shanahan (left), with the Chief of the Dayak tribe in Borneo
Emerging Sustainable Energy Champion Paddy Shanahan (left), with the Chief of the Dayak tribe in Borneo

Borneo is not how it used to be, only 30% of the natural jungle remain now. I think western governments need to look closely at their policies around palm oil, as it’s now in so many products it is a very difficult problem, but one that we all need to solve to save our planet.

Over 60% of the land in Borneo is now given over to Palm Oil production. We drove for over 5 hours and saw nothing but endless palm oil plantations.

Through Green School I was lucky enough to help in a project with JAAN (Jakarta Animal Aid Network) in Java. Our mission was to release 40 performing street monkeys back into the wild. It was amazing to be part of a group of 40 volunteers on a long hot jungle trek carrying a monkey on our backs and to be part of getting the monkeys to a safe place where they were released back into the wild. The more I see and learn about our incredible planet the more I realise just how much we have to lose. I think the key is to change the way we teach in schools and begin at primary level so that every person graduating now has a full understanding of how our ecosystems work and is armed with knowledge to preserve them.

I love Green School - it has been an amazing opportunity. It was a huge honour to win the  SEAI Energy Champion award. I would like to thank Mr Patrick Kirwan and Aoife Cannon for helping me and for the SEAI for the award. It has made a huge difference to me and given me the opportunity of a lifetime. I hope that I will get the chance to use what I have learned to be an advocate for positive change and help in the search for sustainable solutions so we humans can keep living on our amazing planet.