Human Rights education and training are lifelong processes that concern all ages. UN Declaration on Human Rights Education, 2011
Do you want to know who you are?
Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

Thomas Jefferson

Based on the success of the previous year’s Youth Voices programs (Domestic Abuse, Substance Abuse), Trumansburg high school teacher Jane George proposed a new elective course entitled Global Humanism, which was approved by the school board for launching in Fall, 2017. Using the Words Into Deeds project protocol, students in grades 10-12 first studied the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and discussed these in the context of contemporary events and challenges. They then broadly examined the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before focusing on SDG #13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Through classroom discussions and group workshops led by Gertrude and based on key documents, including the Paris Agreement of 2015, students developed factual, balanced views about climate change and its likely impacts, both locally and globally. The process was augmented by classroom discussions with invited experts, including five Cornell students who participated in the 2017 COP23 Climate Change Conference held in Bonn, Germany; this forum included reports and resolutions by drafters and signatories of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement (https://unfccc.int/news/concrete-climate-action-commitments-at-cop23).

Empowering Youth Voices on Climate Change

Cornell Students (seated) share their experiences from the 2017 COP23 Climate Change Conference held in Bonn, Germany.

Following this preparatory phase, students designed interdisciplinary informed action projects around one of three specific subthemes:

  1. Science-based facts and predictions,
  2. Public policies and educational initiatives
  3. Human migrations due to climate change.

As part of their outreach activities, eleven 10th grade students were selected to participate in the Student Leadership Conference on Development, which is held annually at the United Nations under the sponsorship of Global Education Motivators. During the first two days, student representatives from each school shared their group’s perspectives and plans, then worked to draft recommendations around each of the sub-themes. They also selected members who would serve in several leadership roles at the full session.

Lilian Oxley (top) and Jadyn Wright presenting the Trumansburg class’ perspectives and proposed actions to their peers at the United Nations.

Lilian Osley presenting the Trumansburg class’ perspectives and proposed actions to their peers at the United Nations.

 

Lilian Oxley (top) and Jadyn Wright presenting the Trumansburg class’ perspectives and proposed actions to their peers at the United Nations.

Jadyn Wright presenting the class’ action plans.

 

Lilian Oxley (standing) helps guide discussion among students from Mexico, the Republic of Georgia, New York and New Jersey on the subtheme: Science-based facts and predictions related to climate change. In the background are teachers from these schools, who are there to observe but not intervene.

Lilian Oxley (standing) helps guide discussion among students from Mexico, the Republic of Georgia, New York and New Jersey on the subtheme: Science-based facts and predictions related to climate change. In the background are teachers from these schools, who are there to observe but not intervene.

At the final conference day, over 300 global student delegates were present, either in person or via videoconferencing with peers from India, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Georgia, and Mexico. Each subtheme was discussed and debated, with new ideas and modifications incorporated into the draft of a consensus Plan of Action around climate change. This document was subsequently revised then approved by delegates, and presented to the UN Youth Envoy in May, 2017.

The Trumansburg team awaiting entrance to the UN prior to the final session of the Student Leadership Conference. Shown are (left to right) Arianna Wright, Zoe Golden, Gertrude Noden, Sarah Wertis, Logan Bonn, Georgia Mechalke, Jadyn Wright, Lilian Oxley, Margaret McCurdy, Virginia Clifford, Elizabeth Gardner, and Clair Williamson.

The Trumansburg team awaiting entrance to the UN prior to the final session of the Student Leadership Conference. Shown are (left to right) Arianna Wright, Zoe Golden, Gertrude Noden, Sarah Wertis, Logan Bonn, Georgia Mechalke, Jadyn Wright, Lilian Oxley, Margaret McCurdy, Virginia Clifford, Elizabeth Gardner, and Clair Williamson.

Jane George (left), Antje Waterman (representative from the UN Department of Public Information), Georgia Mechalke, and Gertrude outside the conference room. Georgia had been elected to co-chair the day’s sessions.

Jane George (left), Antje Waterman (representative from the UN Department of Public Information), Georgia Mechalke, and Gertrude outside the conference room. Georgia had been elected to co-chair the day’s sessions.

 

Cornell Students (seated) discuss their participation in the 2017 COP23 Climate Change Conference held in Bonn, Germany.

Cornell Students (seated) discuss their participation in the 2017 COP23 Climate Change Conference held in Bonn, Germany.

These enthusiastic participants radiated the imperative that youth must become informed and active in raising awareness and understanding of the local and global impacts of climate change in their communities, especially reaching out to peers and educators.

A summary of this conference was published by UN Academic Impact, and is available at https://academicimpact.un.org/content/2018-student-leadership-conference-development-empowering-youth-voices-climate-change

COMMUNITY OUTREACH AND RECOGNITION

Students also were interviewed for both print and radio media (links below).

Print Media:

Radio Interview:

https://soundcloud.com/wrfihumanrightsshow/gertrude-noden-maggie-mccurdy-elisabeth-gardner-georgiamechalke-dec-22

The accomplishments of participants in the Youth Voices on Climate Change project was recognized by the 2018 People’s Choice “Signs of Sustainability” Award presented by Sustainable Tompkins on Earth Day, 2018. This is a community-based organization working towards the long-term well-being of our communities by integrating social equity, economic vitality, ecological stewardship, and shared responsibility. https://sustainabletompkins.org/

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STUDENT REFLECTIONS

Students were required to keep journals in which they recorded their activities and thoughts during the year. Below are excerpts from some of these reflections.

By not helping our planet, we are taking away people’s human rights.

I’ve always thought there’s no way I was going to be able to change anything. Now I realize that change can happen if you actually put in the effort.

Just like so many other major threats to the planet, the facts about climate change are often misunderstood, misquoted, and frequently denied.  When people deny a problem it makes it impossible for them to address and solve it. These issues need to be urgently acknowledged, and solved, as we have no time to spare. By doing this program we showed that the youth do care what happens to our planet.

My ideas and perception of climate change and global warming have shifted. I have become much more conscious of my personal effects, my family’s effects, and the community’s effects on our planet, and I now think about every action I take.

Since beginning this project my knowledge of the issues of global climate change has improved drastically, and my biases have shifted. One of the most shocking realizations was how unaware most people are about climate change and how it will affect them. This realization has been extremely sobering, but I have also been given the opportunity to meet people who are making positive change, which has given me a fuller perspective on the range of views on climate change.

It is baffling to me the ignorance of some people over an issue that is so devastating to so many. Climate change is already evident in our everyday lives; it is affecting the way that we, as well as all species with whom we share the planet, live.

Climate change is a frightening prospect, and one that will require full attention when attempting to solve it. As a young environmentalist…..I am worried that this problem is going by the wayside, hovering somewhere near the bottom of the list of the government’s priorities.

My experience at the UN was nothing short of extraordinary. The best part was being able to meet students my age from all over the world, learning about their lives and what they had to share about climate change.

As a result of engaging with students just as passionate as I am about climate change, I found that partnering with local and global experts truly can have positive impacts, besides extending my learning and fostering empathy.

The Leadership Conference was an amazing opportunity to meet new people with strong feelings and connections to human rights. Being able to work with peers from around the world and hear their different perspectives on climate change and how it affected them was an amazing experience.

SUPPORT

Financial support for this project was provided by a grant from the Myrtle Dee Nash Memorial Fund of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, by Global Education Motivators, and by generous donors to Words Into Deeds.