Twelve high school students will travel to the United Nations to present their research on climate change. They will be joining other students from around the globe, presenting their findings on local and global measures that can be taken to combat climate change.
The United Nations Student Leadership Conference on Development welcomes youth from anywhere in the world to present research on human rights challenges. The U.N. has outlined 17 sustainable goals that intend to be addressed and completed by the year 2030, and this annual conference focuses on one of these goals each year. The conference on Feb. 19 will target the 13th goal, which is “[Taking] urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” During the conference, representatives of the U.N. will compile the information presented from the students to then share with policy makers in order to implement change. The students provide a youth perspective to make a difference in the global community.
The students in Charles O. Dickerson High School’s half-year Global Humanism course have spent the school year speaking with local and global experts, reading articles, watching documentaries and other forms of independent research in order to learn more about how climate change is affecting the world and Trumansburg. Small groups and individual students focused on different facets of climate change, from climate change migration to excess plastic waste.
A handful of Charles O. Dickerson High School students attended the conference last year, but this is the first year students will be going as a part of a course — and the first year they’ll receive school credit for their research. Gertrude Noden, founder of the organization Words Into Deeds, was instrumental in getting the students to the United Nations, working with global education motivators to help sponsor the conference and allow local experts to work with the students. Noden also helped secure the Myrtle Dee Nash Memorial Fund and donations from other local organizations to fund the conference.
Teacher of the course Jane George said beginning the program last year made it easier and more possible to continue this sort of curriculum into the 2017-18 school year.
“[Going last year] got me familiar with the idea of taking students to the U.N.,” she said. “... We worked with all these places to inform students so they worked with experts, and then students did their projects after that, looking at what the experts had to say and then their own research.”
The students in George’s class spent the beginning of the course gaining an understanding of the impacts climate change, and then they branched off into individual research projects. George guided them into understanding the different facets of climate change, and the students then followed their interests and passions on the topic.
Sophomore Georgia Mechalke and junior Logan Bann worked together on figuring out ways to reduce plastic waste in their school cafeteria and in local businesses. After George showed them the documentary Plastic Ocean, which discusses the issue of plastic waste entering the oceans and harming wildlife, they were inspired to create solutions to limit plastic usage.
“[Plastic Ocean] really looked at all of the effects that all the plastic that we throw away – a lot of it ends up in the ocean, and it has a really huge impact on organisms that live in the ocean, and then us eventually,” Mechalke said.
“People just think of global warming as driving around and polluting the Earth with your gas, and they don’t realize that the plastic they’re using is doing more to hurt the environment than driving is,” Bonn added.
Other students in the class such as sophomore Maggie McCurdy will be focusing on limiting food waste in restaurants, and senior Zoe Golden and sophomore Ari Wright are focusing on bringing awareness to climate change through the use of social media. Golden will specifically be focusing on climate change migration: both around the world and locally.
Regardless of the concentration of research, each project circles back to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was created just after World War II. The students pointed toward Article 25 of the document, which states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.” The students said climate change is directly violating this area of human rights.
“By not helping our planet, we’re taking away people’s human rights,” Mechalke said. “So climate change is causing all these things to not have that standard of living. It’s making them have to migrate, and it’s poisoning their water with plastics – it’s a violation of human rights.”
As the students continue to create change at the U.N., George said the learning and activism doesn’t stop after the conference. While the half-year course may be over and the students returned, George said that is when the real work begins. The students can use their time to speak to legislation and rally locally for change.
“The conference will be a stepping stone in their work – it’s really not an end point. It’s to go to the U.N. and meet with their global peers,” George said. “ … We can do something that’s not about a grade in the book, and something that just goes in their report card, but something that goes into real-life applications.” •