Lily Cole Wants You To Get Back In The Virtual Classroom

The supermodel is fronting a new docu-series with Open University

Lily Cole

by Samuel Fishwick |
Updated on

Catastrophic climate change, the cost of living, the deepening energy crisis, the next pandemic around the corner — these are the things that keep Lily Cole up at night. The supermodel and actress, one of fashion's foremost eco-campaigners, wants to save the world. But first, she says, the world has to learn to save itself.

'From energy security to cost of living to rises in numbers of droughts and flooding around the world, we’re seeing a lot of what has been predicted by scientists. Had we actually listened, had we put scientists or academics at the forefront policy thinking 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we find ourselves in this moment in time,' she says, with the weariness of someone who can look at a problem, think about solutions, and refuses to wait around.

Which is why Lily wants you to go back to school — The Open University(OU), to be precise — to brush up on the skills you need to save the planet. The model is hosting a short documentary series for OU that highlights four research areas its experts are working on — topics from 'how can we empower victims of human trafficking?' ​to 'How can we “age well”, and what does that really mean?​' — and how they are tackling the pressing issues of our world today. Knowledge is power, after all.

Our approach to education is 'a very old fashion model', she says: we decide what we're going to do when we're teenagers, study very hard for that and then 'that’s your trajectory for life, with no space or opportunity to rethink'.

'We don’t live in a world like that anymore,' says Lily. 'The world is constantly evolving and changing and we need to be able to re-skill ourselves to adapt to it.'

What would help, she says, is thinking about the future — and researching it. Instead of thinking about 'the yearly profit cycles that companies often think in terms of, or the four or five year election cycles politicians often think in, we should have a longer term view of the world we’re building', we should be 'having compassion for our children, and our children’s children, and the generations following around the world could help with that framing', and we should give ourselves the tools we need to do something about it.

We know for a fact now that renewable energy is significantly cheaper than fossil fuel energy, she says, yet we keep ploughing investment into new oil wells.

'If I was Liz Truss's advisor I’d be asking the Tories to be less ideological about the attachment to fossil fuels,' she says. 'Fortunately I’m not her advisor! I hope she gets some good ones.'

Climate and social literacy is vital — this isn't activism, it's common sense. That's why getting back to school — or at least tuning in online to what's out there — is cool, says Lily. And she's not purely focussed on cramming the crunchy stuff.

'So much of the curriculum when I was at school was focused on academics — maths, sciences, etc — and some of the most important things we can learn in life are social skills, like dealing with our emotions and parenting. Not all of us are going to parent, but many of us are. Looking after the environment, having a relationship to nature, these are much softer and more intangible aspects to being alive. That is the key thing. I felt that a boxed in approach of a one-size-fits-all academic focus misses what an education could offer for people.' The smart move? Know that there's always more to learn.

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