Last week I had the privilege of volunteering as a camp counselor at Peace Learning Center here in Indianapolis. Aptly named "Climate Camp," the theme of the week was climate change: understanding its causes and learning how humans can mitigate it. It was the job of Kristina Hulvershorn, Mathew Davis, Jim Poyser, and I to teach these children about a concept that many adults have a difficult time grasping. How in the world would we go about doing this?
Being sensitive to the fact that we were working with children, we aimed to combine fun with facts in order to get the point across without boring the children to death.
After the awkward introductory period in which we got the kids acquainted and comfortable, the real discussions began. Keep in mind that the age of these children ranged from 9 to 17 years old. Despite the large age gap, every single child participated in the discussion and was able to back up their own opinion.
To say I was impressed with these children is an understatement. Not only did the children learn from us and from each other, but we adults learned from them as well.
As the week progressed, the children spent time outside, observed the world around them using more than their sense of sight alone (with the help of Matt Shull from White Pine Wilderness Academy), experienced locally grown and cooked vegan food, learned about fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, the importance of sustainable practices and renewable energy, and honed their discussion skills. The benefits these children gained from Climate Camp are invaluable and they yearned to show their parents everything they had learned during the week.
On Friday evening, the children hosted a showcase of all the knowledge they gained during climate camp. Some of the younger children presented a PowerPoint of pictures, others put on a short play written by one of the Climate Campers, and our very own Mathew Davis presented an original poem. Much of the showcase was humorous but the final part was far more serious.
On the screen, a music video from YouTube played while the children stood at the front of the room holding up cards that show the various effects of climate change: drought, starvation, disease, the list goes on.
To the song "Plus Rien," the video displayed disturbing images of desert wastelands, diseased and starving people, an uninhabitable planet. In other words, the future of planet Earth if we humans don't clean up our act (or, forgive the pun, "green" up our act). The work is by a French band called Les Cowboys Fringants and is about the last man on Earth, living in the not-so-distant future, talking about what lead up to this disturbing scenario. The devastation of landscapes and the deaths of those who inhabited by them were exacerbated by — you guessed it — climate change.
The haunting lyrics of this song were displayed on the screen: But after about a hundred years some people started to wake up/ And they warned them they needed to stop/ But they didn't understand this wise prophecy/ Those men only spoke in terms of profit/It was some years later that they saw the error of their ways/In panic they declared a state of emergency/When all the oceans engulfed the islands/And the floods hit the big cities.
As I gazed across the room, I saw the same expression emblazoned on the face of every single person in the audience as well as the campers: incredulity mixed with horror.
All morbidity aside, this is the moment every environmentalist lives for: the moment when people really begin to get it. The goal is not necessarily to scare people into believing but sometimes that is the only method that gets the point across. Climate change is no hoax and in fact, a very real and terrifying reality.
Though the children found this video to be quite horrifying, they may still need more time before it really sinks in, but I have the utmost faith that it will. Climate Camp merely planted the seed and will stick with these children their entire lives.
To paraphrase a statement by Kristina Hulvershorn, "We see before us the juxtaposition of our greatest hopes and our worst fears."
It is always said that children are our future and there is no denying the truth in that. The most incredible attribute of these children, our Climate Campers, is that even in the face of a maddeningly uncertain future, they retain their unwavering hope.
Coming away from camp, I learned from those children to never lose hope in a bright future even in the face of oblivion, and that is a vital lesson that every person on this planet needs.
Alexis Lynn Litz
Environmental Science Minor
Student Environmental Sustainability Coordinator
President of the Green Panthers
Class of 2015
For more on Climate Camp, see Jim Poyser's blog.