Opinion

High School Students Engage with Climate Change

The ‘2071’ play and workshop allowed high school students to engage with climate change and provided them with an opportunity to voice their concerns and questions about the present and future environmental issues.

As part of our World Environment Day events, SEI in partnered with The Seymour Centre to host ‘2071’ – a play for Sydney high school students, in an attempt to uncover what climate change means to them.

‘2071’ is a play about climate change, created from the words of one of the world’s foremost climate change scientists, Professor Chris Rapley. The play fuses the facts of climate change and our planets’ history of global warming with astounding 3D projections and an original music score. Part dramatic play, part art-installation and completely scientifically authentic, 2071 imagines what the world might be like in the future and asks us what sort of world we want to live in. What kind of future do we want to create?

Following the performance was a workshop which featured presentations from Anthropolgist Jude Philp and coral reef fish expert Anthony Gill  from the University’s Macleay Museum, historian Leah Lui-Chivizhe and Cedric Counord, Ex- Greenpeace activist.

What themes and issues did the speakers discuss?

The Four speakers attempted to showcase how research on the earth’s marine systems, and how we care for our unique natural heritage affect us now in the present and in the future. We know so little about our oceans and the species that live in them, and climate change greatly diminishes our chances of understanding.

Jude Philp’s presentation answered the question ‘What makes a jellyfish glow and how did they get in my brain?’ Jude highlighted the importance of knowing our environment and appreciating its complexities and worth. She explained that in 2008, a team of biochemists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their role in understanding the proteins that give so many reef animals their florescent colours.  Jude explained that jellyfish have long been studied by scientists, but is only recently that scientists have tapped into the potential of jellyfish with breakthroughs across the arts and sciences, including the use of jellyfish luminous cells to help diagnose cancers deep in our bodies. This reiterates that we still don’t know about the influence of marine species and habitats and that we still have a lot to learn.

jellu

 

Anthony Gill’s talk asked the important question – If we don’t know what marine species are in the oceans, how will we know they are gone? Anthony highlighted the importance of investigating the diversity of species so that we understand what we risk losing from climate change. Anthony explained his work as a taxonomist allows for identifying, describing and classifying species, which aides in managing biodiversity and monitoring populations. Anthony argued that “15,000 to 20,000 new plant and animal species are discovered each year, including 300 to 500 fish species.

fish

Leah Lui-Chivizhe, Historian, and recent SEI PhD graduate discussed the impacts of climate change on turtles in the Torres Strait’s, and how climate change issues such as rising sea levels and erosion impact indigenous knowledge about turtles and their habitats. Leah explained that climate change will increase the temperature of the sand where turtles lay their eggs and as sand temperature determine the gender of turtles, the hotter sand temperatures will result in more female turtles which will inevitably impact birth rates.

turt

 

Cedric Counord, activist and former Head of Actions and Logistics at Greenpeace Australia Pacific provided a discussion on approaches to non-violent direction action and how activism can bring about positive change. In focusing on how we can work to save the Great Barrier Reef, Cedric explained that humans are only one part of a bigger world, and we have a duty to protect it the planet and species.

ced

The workshop brought together these four speakers from diverse backgrounds and scholarly disciplines. This collaboration highlighted that there are many people focused on the issue of marine protection and conversation in the face of climate change and that we need a broad range of people, with different skill sets, if we are to address these issues in full.

How did the students react to ‘2071’ and the workshop?

The workshop led to meaningful engagement from students who were interested and concerned about issues of climate change. The students asked a number of interesting questions, which are discussed below.

  • Why the environment? Students were especially interested in what “sparked” speakers desire to impact change, engage with environmental issues and specialise in their respective areas.
  • How do we advocate for the environment? One student asked Cedric about his experience “stopping boats” when he worked with Greenpeace. Cedric described climbing aboard a tanker, having a coffee with the captain and peacefully explaining his case, which emphasised the effectiveness of safe, strategic and non-violent environmental activism.
  • Why is taxonomy so important? This question was asked in relation to Anthony’s talk, and it was clear that the students were excited about the prospect of being a part of the scientific process of naming newly discovered unclassified species. They also expressed interest in species diversity and developing a further awareness of the vast complexities of the environment around them.
  • What are the impacts of climate change? – Students were affected by Leah’s talk, which highlighted images of sick/dying turtles, who were affected by climate change and rising sea levels. These images appeared to showcase the realities of climate change, making it more tangible and providing an understanding of the detrimental impacts that further sea level rises will have on turtle populations in the Torres Strait and on human beings.
  • What about the sceptics? There were several questions about how to engage with climate change sceptics. All speakers agreed that the best approach was to be as informed as possible about the impact and effects of climate change and to share their climate change knowledge in a productive way which leads to open dialogues. Cedric suggested that you need to listen to the skeptics because it teaches you what you need to know and enables you to strengthen your argument. Leah suggested surrounding oneself with people who actively support the fight against climate change, rather than wasting time arguing about the existence of climate change itself.

What was the impact of this workshop?

Over the three workshops, the group of speakers spoke to more than 350 students, including their teachers and parents which is sure to open up dialogues for effective strategies for change making.

We asked Jude to comment on the effectiveness of the holistic approach of the workshop, and how it contributed to a conversation on climate change. Jude said:

Personally I liked the combination of a workshop that developed ideas from the theatre production, and also alerted the audiences to side-areas where they could see the kinds of things that scientists and others do in the area of climate change. 

Each school audience asked quite different things – even though the presentation was approximately the same each time. It showed, i think, the wide benefit of the short talks to stimulate their thinking in a variety of unpredictable but thoughtful ways. 

Image: Joel Filipe via Unsplash