Teachers engage students to do their part in fighting Climate Change

untitledAmy White Graves’ Brooklyn children’s theater group usually stages plays about folktales and lessons on morality. But after Superstorm Sandy, the troupe felt the need to also educate children about the environment.

Since 2012, Graves and her fellow directors at the Brooklyn Children’s Theatre have used art to teach young thespians about climate change.

Nearby, also in Brooklyn, high school science teacher Beth Mowry wanted to encourage her students to become activists. They recently took part in a call-a-thon imploring new New York City Council members to pass a resolution mandating climate change education in all city schools.

At the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, where Mowry teaches, the climate change course is popular with her students, she said.

Throughout the city, New Yorkers – especially young adults – have become involved in the fight to mitigate climate change through education, theater, activism, marches, and in their own small ways.

“The movement can benefit from having classes like mine,” Mowry said. “It is imperative that students understand how the climate system is being affected and that they feel empowered to use their knowledge and voices to make the world a better place.”

Climate change occurs when rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses, mostly caused by human activity, start to affect average weather patterns, causing changes such as a rapid sea level rise and drought, according to the state Department of Ecology. Extreme weather will become more common, posting risk to food, water and sources of energy, according to the World Bank.

Climate change doubters have argued that mankind’s role in global warming has not been conclusively proved.

Republican and Democratic presidential political candidates have all weighed on the climate change debate, and Pope Francis has called for urgent action.

“Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” the pontiff told reporters in his visit to Washington, D.C., in September.

Graves, 47, the theatre’s executive director, said a composer friend inspired her to direct her first environmentally-focused play about a community of fish that protests a developer destroying their habitat with a condominium development. She said the arts is one way to get young people talking about climate change, but real change has to come from a groundswell of support.

“I think it has to happen politically, like the government changing their stance on energy use,” she said.

Graves said climate change is “the most important issue to focus on … and take action on.”

“There’s no point to anything if there’s no land left,” she added.

Mowry said her students’ voices can also be powerful.

“Young people today are … in a position to call out our political leaders to take action to preserve our climate and our ecosystems,” she said.

Last month, a climate change Halloween parade in Brooklyn drew a handful of young people who were passionate about the issue.

“Global warming is climate change,” said 12-year-old Elliot Powell, who marched in the parade with her father. People are burning fossil fuels, which are putting gases into the atmosphere.”

Experts say one way to mitigate climate change is by using alternative sources of power. Some supermarkets like Stop and Shop have begun using solar panels to provide the store with light instead of electricity.

Scientists believe Hurricane Sandy, which hit the New York region in 2012, was more severe because of climate change. Sonia Cyril, one of Mowry’s students, said she and her classmates have made posters about the effects of Superstorm Sandy on the Red Hook neighborhood. The students visited Red Hook to talk to a grocery store manager about the storm’s impact and have also offered solutions about how the community can recover from the storm.

And Cyril, 18, is more aware of climate change and her impact on the environment. She has thought about her habits, too.

“I also try to stop littering,” she said.