Extreme weather. Sea level rise. Wild fires.
The majority of climate scientists worldwide attribute climate change to human activity, yet the debate between the “believers” (those who agree with the majority of climate scientists) and “deniers” (those who think humans have nothing to do with it) is relentless.
“Humans aren’t stupid…. as the evidence mounts, eventually we’re going to see that we need to do something.”
~ Dr. Kimberly Strong, Polar Environment Research Laboratory Facility | University of Toronto
Youth Climate Report 2013 premiered at the United Nations’ COP19 climate summit in Warsaw in November and explores the basic science behind climate change, what’s going on currently and what we can do about it.
Whichever camp you’re in, I hope you’ll put aside a small sliver of your day to watch this film then scroll down for the interview with the film’s Producer/Director Ray and Youth Climate Report founder John Kelly. And if you have a question for the director or YCR founder, leave it in the comment section below.
Youth Climate Report gives global youth the skills and tools to report on and so contribute to the dialogue around the science of, and policy responses to, climate change.
“Understanding climate science means also understanding your own emissions, and therefore your complicity in the destruction of our environment and ecosystems.”
~ Ray Kocur, Director “Youth Climate Report 2013”
Lynn: Tell me about the youth who created the 2013 film.
John (YCR Founder): Our reporters for YCR4 came mostly from universities in Canada and Singapore as a result of a new approach this year of handing off a lot of the editorial control to our director, Ray Kocur. In the past we have just compiled footage we received without really having a narrative through-line to the work and we decided this year to try something a little different.
We are really happy with how this turned out for this edition. We have lots of other reports that we received throughout 2013 which we host on our YouTube channel and we will package and promote in different ways throughout the coming year. Ideally we will cast our net very broadly in 2014 and receive some really high quality reports that we can incorporate into YCR5.
Lynn: When did you become interested in climate change?
Ray (YCR Director): My long-standing interest in social justice was fostered by my father—who raised me on Ken Burns’ films and other documentaries discussing civil rights, genocides and inequities within societies—but it wasn’t until I arrived at York University in 2007 and saw Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” that I began to pay attention to the Climate Change discussion.
Like many people in the global north, I understood the connection between our carbon emissions and the changing climate (the data was too strong to ignore) but I did not incorporate these concepts into my worldview right away.
Athough my stated worldview was one of equality and justice for those more disadvantaged than myself, I chose the easy way out instead of action. For years I fell in line with nihilism and apathy, two of the most fashionable (and debilitating) practices in educated, empowered communities. I no longer find these thought experiments fulfilling.
Year by year we see the evidence mount and the dots interconnect on a global scale, but knowledge is not power unless it is applied in a productive way.
History has shown time and again that everyone plays a role in the making of our present and future. I no longer wanted to be one of the people who chose to be a bystander. When I was given the opportunity to produce and direct Youth Climate Report, I seized it as an opportunity to further the most important social movement of my lifetime.
Lynn: Who do you hope sees your film? What do you hope people take away from the film?
Ray: The most important message I hope audiences take away from the film is: we are past the point where climate change can be reversed and (more importantly) we are capable as individuals and as a species to adapt to the inevitable shift in climate and reduce the possible impacts through sustainable practices.
I designed the current version of the “Youth Climate Report” with an audience of policy makers in mind. For the UN Framework Convention it was important that the information be presented as objectively and apolitically as possible so that rational discourse could take place between nations without blame falling on a single country, culture, or society. With COP19 complete, I am in the midst of remixing the film into a more accessible version designed for a general audience.
The final goal is to use the film as a tool to engage communities curious about our changing world. I hope this new version makes it to high schools and youth organizations around the world, and I will be personally touring this film as far as I can to interested communities. We will screen the film, answer questions, and provide interested youth with workshops that will give them the skills to report on their own communities.
Lynn: Do you feel there are a lot of young people like you who not only believe in the science but want to do something about it? Are young people frustrated with the older generations? Why?
Ray: The conclusive evidence supporting climate change has permeated our society to the point where it is very difficult to deny its existence; even coal companies have championed the science (check out this YouTube clip from COP19:
(Quote starts at the 2 minute mark.)
Unquestionably there is a growing number of youth that understand climate science, and out of that population there are many that want to do something about it, however, I have witnessed many people broken down by the culture of apathy popularized by older generations.
Living in North America, I think it’s easy to feel bogged down by the mechanisms within our society that keep us chained to fossil fuels and massive emissions. It is even more discouraging to see our elders and mentors, the people who mold our maleable minds, so entrenched in these arcane practices that they see no way out and no point trying. The scariest part is that this willful blindness is contagious.
I fear that some of today’s youth, in their natural desire to please their elders, are donning the same blinders. Of course, everything in life is statistical and I have learned to never paint entire groups with the same brush.
Through the making of this documentary I have met countless people, young and old, who are passionately dedicated to these issues and are dedicating their lives (and livelihoods) toward improving our world and inspiring others to do the same. These are the examples I choose to focus on because I know what it feels like to be pulled from the jaws of nihilism. Once I started to see my peers promoting and working on this just cause, I realized that I was not alone in my desire to make a difference and any contribution I could make would be a worth-while one.
As this party grows it will gain energy and momentum.
This energy will be strong, positive, and attractive to those people who were once apathetic. History has shown that cultural shifts take place once the majority of people accept a change of worldview. If my generation embraces sustainable development and responsible environmental practices in the same way our parents and grandparents embraced the civil rights movement, we will see a paradigm shift on par with the abolition of Jim Crow and apartheid. Like those examples, there will be people who resist and continue to resist for generations, but like a splash in a pond their waves will turn to ripples and those ripples will get smaller and less significant.
Lynn: Why do you think people are resistant to “believe” in climate science?
Ray: Understanding climate science means also understanding your own emissions, and therefore your complicity in the destruction of our environment and ecosystems. When faced with such harsh truths it’s easier to seek the inner safety of apathy.
The idea is: if I don’t care it can’t hurt me.
We choose not to think about something distressing because it almost feels like it doesn’t exist, but like a smoker trying not to cough in the morning: one clear breath doesn’t mean the lungs are healthy. Our climate does not discriminate; everyone is and will continue to feel its effects. The cure for apathy is empowerment. Human beings are designed to care about things. We only stop caring when we feel that we are powerless.
I promise you, from experience, that empowering yourself to engage in positive community building activities will be some of the most gratifying experiences of your life!
Lynn: What motivated you to start Youth Climate Report?
John: Seeing the effect of screening our previous science documentaries (The Antarctica Challenge and The Polar Explorer) at UNFCCC events, where delegates and negotiators welcomed the format in which we presented this vital information, we realized that if we expanded our efforts to include science reporting from around the world, we could potentially expand the benefit as well and having youth be our reporters proved a very profound way of tapping their energy and frustration at the pace of negotiations while also encouraging their meaningful participation (through science journalism) at the highest level.
Lynn: How did people at the UNFCCC react to your film?
John: When my colleague Mark Terry attended the Rio+20 conference in June 2012 with our second Youth Climate Report the impact of what we were doing really struck home: the UNEP pavilion in Rio was all about engaging youth and children through screens and our film was clearly the perfect content for this medium. Thousands of school children watched the presentation over the course of the conference and UNEP and the UNFCCC really took note. It was a tremendous validation of what we were doing.
What’s the best way other youth can get involved?
John: Anyone with a point and shoot camera or smartphone can get involved, we have really simple instructions on the website about how to make the best looking and sounding short report possible
John: The next UNFCCC conference will be COP20 in Lima, Peru and we will be focused throughout 2014 in building up our Spanish speaking reporting teams throughout the Americas so that we have really meaningful input from both researchers and students on the impacts of climate change in this hemisphere and different modes of adaptation which are being tested and implemented.
To learn more about Youth Climate Report, visit their website YouthClimateReport.org.
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Editor: Cat Beekmans/Bryonie Wise
Photo: go greener oz/Flickr