The First International Undergraduate Conference on Climate, Water, Weather and Society was held last week in Shanghai, China. The conference was attended by about 50 talented students from countries including China, Korea, Indonesia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Australia and the United States.
The students learned about climate systems and society’s responses, including positive ones, to environmental challenges, and also presented on their own initiatives such as Three Degrees. They pledged to partner across borders to strengthen the student movement’s role in addressing climate change.
China, with 20% of the world’s population, is not just another country. If China’s coal fired power plants continue to grow in number at the present rate, the world’s temperature will rise 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, regardless of what anyone else does. So, in solving climate change, the Chinese dragon must be understood. In short, history, culture and language do matter in international negotiations.
I attended this conference to seek out exciting stories from young leaders from all over the world. Establishing a more even playing field in reporting of global affairs, especially the climate crisis, is critical. The vast majority of scientists, writers, academics and policy makers are either from, or located in developed countries (yours truly included). However, 80% of the world’s population is not.
Despite our best intentions, we cannot honestly address global problems without a truly global conversation that empowers the majority world, including those marginalized within South countries.
Likewise, despite immense good will and camaraderie, simulated international negotiations between the students demonstrated the depth of the challenge to democratize environmental advocacy, through the web and in international institutions and forums.
That is why, building upon this philosophy, I am eager to see creative communicators from the global south penetrate though the cyberspace mire and reach audiences consumed by happenings in their own backyards.
I am particularly inspired by the young and articulate Chinese undergraduates I met. We should hope that these future leaders continue to champion real progress in the world, and are not lured by the comparatively better re-numeration in the corporate sector.
While these human distinctions are important, the planet does not care whether we are from Sweden or Swaziland as it goes on breathing under the stresses we place upon it. It is tempting to feel helpless when people speak endlessly about the extent of the glacial melt or the predicted rises in global temperatures.
However, I was encouraged by the face that despite their lack of experience, some members of the “eco-generation”, so-labeled by their professors, are ready for the fight for what they believe in. They are armed with open minds and open eyes, and if the Chinese Government allows, open tools for communication.
Today’s 20 year olds, “digital natives”, can better visualise a world beyond the growth economy. They are not responsible (yet) for the broken system we have. I believe that they, and not the current generation of leaders who will meet at Copenhagen this December, will have the credibility and courage to stand up against the vested corporate interests of the fossil fuels, forestry, farming and fishing sectors. Experienced scientists who presented at the conference (including Ilan Kelman – photo above) confessed that they had learned much from the students’ collective imagination and attitude – I certainly did.
Let’s not be complacent. The potential leaders of tomorrow are already struggling against our biggest enemy: the apathy of the masses. My Chinese colleagues tell me that this is as much a problem in their society as it is in Western democracies. More climate education is needed at the school and university level to inculcate a progressive mindset about planet Earth into society. This has been a longtime passion of Professor Michael Glantz from the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the brains behind the conference. INSTAAR and the organizers from the East China Normal University deserve credit for enabling such a collaborative, intimate and activist vibe for the conference.
While the fruits of this conference will not be seen immediately, I don’t feel this was just another conference. Keep an eye on Our World 2.0 in the upcoming weeks for more upbeat stories from conference attendees. We also look forward to more of your positive tales about how our world responds to climate change, peak oil, food security and biodiversity challenges.