This morning my colleague Hilde Binford and I walked from our rented house to the COP22 conference. The walk was about a mile further than we expected and we got a bit sunburned on the way. And by the time we made it through security and got our badges, it was 11:30. Since we hadn’t eaten since the night before (or had coffee) we decided to head straight for the onsite food places. Before long I was sitting down to a plate of sushi, which seemed appropriate at such an international conference.
The conference is an amazing tent city, with tents the size of small warehouses. I have been to lots of conferences in my life, but nothing like this. I am simply overwhelmed by the organizational skill it takes to manage a conference on this scale. I have been to several international conferences, but never to one that is so truly international. The presidents of most of the African nations will be here this week along with high ranking officials from most of the countries that signed the Paris Agreement and Kyoto protocol. I am not accustomed to simply being an observer at a conference and watching serious people intensely engaged in their conference work while I can wander to and fro attending sessions and viewing displays.
The exhibition tents have displays from many different countries highlighting the effective ways that they are addressing the problem of carbon emissions. Solar farms in Qatar, for instance. The United States exhibit includes information from NASA. They are using satellites and the international space station to gather data and images that clearly show the increased carbon in the atmosphere and the rising temperature of the world’s oceans. They have used satellite imaging to find illegal logging camps in Latin America. One of the most beautiful displays was digitally enhanced film of all the world’s oceans where you can see the currents flowing with different water temperatures. NASA makes this information freely available online for anyone in the world.
Morocco seems to be an incredible host. At the second session I attended Princess Lalla Hasnaa of Morocco spoke. She is President of the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection and is the sister of the current king. Apparently Morocco is one of the major drivers of the global climate initiative, and everywhere I go I see solar panels. The heads of UNESCO and UNFCCC also spoke at that session. One of the speakers talked about the importance of education in helping people recognize that the problems of the world are their problems. He was not talking simply about putting climate change information in the science curriculum, but the important role that the liberal arts play in helping people think critically and engaged other cultures and people with empathy. A presenter from MIT spoke on the need for education that changes the hearts and minds of people. He has developed workshops that are not focused on numbers and charts but which engage people in simulations so that they can participate in the process of lowering emissions. It is what he called visceral education.
Representatives of the youth delegates to COP22 presented a strong plea that climate change information be included in all school curricula in every country at every level of education and that the scientific information be readily available in every country. Most of the discussion was about making this information accessible in poor, rural countries that do not have access to advanced technologies. The youth treated climate change as a human rights issue because we are affecting the world they must live in. I think Brexit and the US elections show how little people over the age of 55 in industrialized nations really think about the world that people under the age of 30 will have to confront.
What depressed me was the fact that in my country this information is readily available, but school boards and now even the federal government try to keep it out of school curricula. The whole world is coming together to combat climate change while the United States continues to resist the overwhelming scientific evidence that the globe is warming, the climate is changing, and carbon emissions are the primary cause. One presenter researched the effect of education on people’s view of the environment and willingness to change their behaviors. He found that in almost every country the higher a person’s educational level the more aware they are of climate change and how to prevent it. The one exception is the United States where the most educated people are radically polarized in their view of the science and the need for action.
After leaving the education session I saw a man with virtual reality equipment and I talked Hilde into letting us try it. He was working with the Red Cross and Red Crescent on developing interactive computer software to teach about climate change and its impact on natural disasters. The software also shows people why it would be better to gear disaster relief funds to prevention and proactive measures rather than having to respond to disasters after they have happened. I’ve never used virtual reality and I was very impressed with the experience. I did a program on the melting of the Arctic Ice, and I am sad to say that I correctly predicted the rate of the rise in temperature in the Arctic over the next 30 years and when the ice would be all gone (2050). The guy developing the software was really nice and so glad that he had people to show off to. Hilde and I thought of several ways to use this technology in teaching at the college level, and he also told us about the many new Indie computer games that teach people the effects of their actions socially and environmentally. He was certainly the highlight of the day.
We topped off an exhausting day with an early dinner at a French restaurant, complete with wine and creme brule!