Talking to the Youth
If I could afford it, I would quite my job and spend my time doing what I was doing last Thursday at 11 am. That is, speak to today’s youth about the realities of climate change.
Last Thursday, at 11 am, I was in a small auditorium in front about 100 students (grades 9-12) and teachers, giving a presentation about climate change. The presentation was an adaptation of the talk I have given on a few occasions to the general public. I explain what the greenhouse effect is, what the carbon cycle is, how human activity has affected that cycle, and how that is affecting our climate. And I’m fairly brutal about it. I mention Bill McKibben’s global warming math (how much carbon the fossil fuel industry has access to and our “carbon budget” to limit warming to 2 degrees C), the fact that “business-as-usual” means a warming of somewhere near 6 degrees and how 4 degrees is “hell on Earth”.
My presentation also addresses what needs to be done about our warming planet: adaptation and mitigation. And I include the advantages of those actions. For example, getting off of fossil fuels would eliminate the pollution that comes from our “modern” extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing, off-shore drilling and whatever it is that they are doing in the Tar Sands mines of Alberta. Stopping the combustion of coal, gas and oil would also save the lives of the 1.3 million people around the world that die every year from outdoor air pollution (according to the World Health Organization) – and that includes 21,000 Canadians.
I also discuss the careers that they should consider in the new “green economy”, from installing wind turbines and solar panels to designing efficient, modern buildings. And I mention the work done in countries like Germany (a separate post on that in the near future) and Denmark and how Canada has even more potential for renewables that those countries.
However, I hope that the most important message they keep from my presentation is that they can do something about this. Climate change is a problem created by the previous generations, however it is they and their children that will bear the brunt of our mistakes and our inaction. But, I tell them that they have more power than they realize. Although most of the kids I spoke to cannot yet vote, by the next federal and provincial elections, they will. And they can use that leverage when talking to the media or when talking to politicians. Imagine a generation of new voters, voting on climate change policy. That would be amazing!
Until now, response has been very good. Students and teachers have been positive in their feedback. One student in particular seemed genuinely moved and would like to aim his career in order to address the challenge. And the grade 11 students, as part of their French class (!), are actually working on concrete actions that could be taken to reduce the school’s carbon footprint. Some of the ideas include getting classes to turn off their lights when they aren’t necessary, banning plastic water bottles in our school and having one day a month where no computers are turned on. SWEET!
I am very motivated by this, and I want to do more of it! That is why I’ve begun to contact other schools on PEI to see if they would allow me to present to their students. Luckily, I have a supportive principal that will allow me to take time off (at my expense) in order to go talk to other schools. I am also working with my department at the University of Prince Edward Island, which gives me so added credibility when contacting school principals.
Like Bill McKibben has said, there is nothing more important that I could be doing right now.