Silence before the storm?

Every day we are bombarded with videos of floods, forest fires, and hurricanes. The newest IPCC Report (2018) warns us about the devastating impact of global warming of only 1.5°C on the weather, ecosystems, arctic ice, food production, human health, tourism, etc. (1). And even during our “Netflix and Chill”-Sessions on the sofa documentaries like A Plastic Ocean and Before the Flood hit you. While every possible alarm bell around us seems to be ringing, life around us appears strangely silent. Apart from a very un-Danish, though admittedly enjoyable warm summer for most people nothing is interrupting the business as usual. In other words: while scientific evidence documenting the urgent need to mitigate anthropogenic climate change is clear (1), social science data is also clear: around the world, the concern about climate change is not proportional to the pending risks we are facing (2).

But not in Denmark, right? After all, this is considered to be one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world with its high reliance on renewable energy and cycling. Also, when asked  “How much do you know about global warming or climate change?”, 90% of Danes claim to know “a great deal” about global warming (3). So why is it then that Danes have one of the highest ecological footprints in the world according to WWF’s Living Planet Report (4)? These contradictions reveal that the transition from knowledge to action is far from straight-forward. Social scientists are only beginning to understand the fundamental role of human cognition and emotions in initiating climate action. Yet, many educational approaches continue to be based on the information deficit theory of risk communication, which posits that providing people with facts about the reality, causes, and risks of climate change should motivate them to take appropriate action (5). In this article, we present you with an alternative approach that we take at Crossing Borders.

Crossing Borders collaborating with local schools at the Peoples Meeting in Bornholm 2018. The speaker is from a partner organization in Uganda, Open Spaces. Wakibu Bunya talks to local Danish students on “broadening the space and opportunities for young people to unlock their full potential through debate and local action.

Roleplaying games at 2018 Great Debate School Camp in Humblebæk School.

Why we need an alternative approach – a practical example

            Imagine for a moment that you are traveling back in time and you find yourself to be a student again. It is 11 am, you are discussing the threats of deforestation of the Amazon for endangered species and indigenous peoples in your biology class. After class, you go for lunch with your classmates. You are just about to pay for your ham and cheese sandwich when one of your best friends asks the cashier whether they are also offering vegetarian options. Surprised, you ask him what that was about. He invites you for a vegetarian dinner at his place in the evening to talk about it. Let’s assume you decide to become vegetarian, what motivated you more: your biology class or your friend? From a teacher’s perspective, one may argue that this is an unfair comparison. But there may be some takeaways for teaching about Climate Change in general if we look at the underlying reasons why your friend is more likely to change your behavior:

  • Even the most educated and intelligent humans have difficulties to grasp complex realities such as our impact on the “far-away” Amazon rainforest.
  • Information often needs to be coupled with an emotional response in order to motivate behavioral change.
  • Humans are social beings: we are more likely to act if we feel that this is the norm among people around us or, more importantly, people we can identify with.

These insights are the ones Crossing Borders builds on in the design of the workshops we offer to Danish high schools.

Green Chrismas 2018 was conceptualized by two volunteers interested in a more sustainable Christmas! Quote to picture: “The event included speeches on waste reduction, sustainable gifts and upcycling; books and clothes swap; free vegan food and a non-material Christmas Auction, where 17.600 DKK was raised and donated fully to local green volunteering communities in Denmark.”

The “Crossing Borders” Approach

A typical Crossing Borders workshop is facilitated by 4-5 young facilitators from around the globe. This reflects our first core value: Diversity. We do not only aim to create a world where diversity is celebrated but also believe that our inner set-up is the first place to put this into practice. This is why our staff come from different backgrounds, ages, academic and countries of origin. All our workshops are given in English to train young people in being able to communicate and interact with others around the globe.

Our second core value is Inclusion. Before diving into substantial information we do our best to break down borders between us and the participants. While icebreakers are still often misjudged as childish games they are gaining increasing recognition in organizational settings and adult education (6). These interactive methods encourage participation by all, a sense of unity with common goal. Further, they serve to maintain the learners’ interest and foster a safe learning environment. These outcomes are important in achieving a socially inclusive learning and working environment that allows everyone to learn and develop on their own terms.

Every workshop is started with a short introduction to our team as well as the topic of the day. With authenticity as our third core value, Crossing Borders doesn’t tell the story of a person. Rather, our aim is to create the space for one person’s voice to be heard and for a story to become a dialogue. Following the motto “Don’t be the voice for the voiceless, pass the mic”, this means involving people who are passionate about the topic of climate change themselves instead of merely giving a presentation about climate change. Our experience has shown that enthusiastic facilitators easily spark curiosity, engage participation and kickstart the students’ motivation to learn. However, authenticity also means being honest. Although each of us is, in their own ways, setting important steps towards sustainability, none of us is perfect. So rather than preaching what we cannot practice ourselves, we share our knowledge on good practices but also on our struggles. By facilitating personal identification we aim to make broad and abstract topics graspable for students. Insert picture 3

All our core values – diversity, social inclusion and authenticity – point at the need to create room for every single student to actively participate in the learning process in his or her own way. Therefore, most of our main activities are based on non-formal education methods. The deployment of such methods is beneficial for teaching about climate change in many ways:

  • Knowledge gained from personal interaction is shown to have a more long-term cognitive effect and spur critical thinking about climate issues (7).
  • Identification with different roles allows for emotional involvement as well as an in-depth comprehension of the complexity of topics such as climate action.
  • Instead of teaching the “right answer” (and in this way inevitably creating a sense of hierarchy) there is room for open dialogue and discussions of different ideas on how to react to climate change.
  • Students are encouraged to find creative solutions to climate problems.

Another indispensable aspect of our workshop activities is the connection of abstract or fictive content to our daily lives. As the UN has made very clear in their formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we can only achieve them by collective effort on a global, national, regional and individual level! While there is a reflection on the outcome of each activity, we generally proceed from global to local matters. This way, a workshop on Climate Action may, for instance, end with activity on calculating your own footprint. The surprise upon seeing how much impact a single flight to Thailand or a non-vegetarian diet have serves as a good basis for motivating students to create a to-do list of thing they want to actively change in their lives. Overall, we aim to inspire students to transfer their knowledge into the real world.

How is this useful for you?  

There are many things you as a teacher may adopt from a Crossing Borders’ approach to teaching about Climate Change. 1. Connect global to local matters to make the topic graspable; 2. Be authentic: do not only practice what you preach but also preach what you practice; 3. Engage students actively by establishing an inclusive environment to elicit critical reflection and emotional involvement with the topic. For inspiration on content and educational methods, you can access our lesson modules: … or book a workshop: …

About the author. Hannah Kraus is a project manager at Crossing Borders. She considers herself as a global citizen, having lived in 6 different countries. Currently, she is finishing her Master Programme in Migration Studies at Copenhagen University. Working with youth, raising awareness about global issues and facilitating intercultural exchange, is one of her greatest passions.

References:

  • IPCC (2018). Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]
  • Stokes B, Wike R, Carle J. Global Concern about Climate Change, Broad Support for Limiting Emissions. Washington DC: Pew Research Center, 2015 November 5, 2015. Available from: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/11/Pew-Research-Center-Climate-Change-Report-FINAL-November-5-2015.pdf.
  • Pelham, B. W. (2014). Awareness, opinions about global warming vary worldwide: many unaware, do not necessarily blame human activities. Gallup World.
  • WWF (2016). Living Planet: Report 2016: Risk and Resilience in a New Era. World Wide Fund for Nature.
  • Pearce W, Brown B, Nerlich B, Koteyko N. Communicating climate change: conduits, content, and consensus. WIRES Clim Change. 2015; 6(6):613–26. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.366
  • Chlup, D. T., & Collins, T. E. (2010). Breaking the Ice: Using Ice-breakers and Re-energizers with Adult Learners. Adult Learning, 21(3–4), 34–39. https://doi.org/10.1177/104515951002100305
  • Damon, W. (1984). Peer education: The untapped potential. Journal of applied developmental psychology, 5(4), 331-343.

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