The coronavirus pandemic could be seen as a great excuse for the youth to be unproductive and waste time.
However, it seems as if the opposite is true.
Young people all over the world are motivated to continue working, they are determined to make an impact even in these trying times.
The “Climate Academy”, a Brussels-based, student-run organisation dedicated to spreading the truth about climate change, is no exception.
The Climate Academy, as a community of students, is focused on communicating the importance of climate action. Set up in 2011 by a Philosophy teacher, Matthew Pye, in collaboration with Michael Wadleigh (Oscar Winner, Woodstock, 1970) and Birgit van Munster, the Academy is an educational ‘hothouse’ about the scientific and social reality of our sustainability crisis.
One key ambition of the Academy is to equip the students with the skills and understanding to become effective social entrepreneurs. Indeed, after educating their peers about climate change in a social media project in 2017, they organised the first major climate protest in Brussels on November 20th 2018.
“Climate Action represents fundamental change, not just reducing, reusing and recycling,” said Climate Academy Science Team director Kristaps Zilgalvis, a 16-year-old English section student at the European School of Brussels 2 (EEB2).
“The consequences of inaction are too great to ignore, we have to confront reality, we have to listen to the science."
Scientists agree that the Earth is running toward 4°C temperature rise by the end of the century and a system collapse that will yield catastrophic consequences.
The Climate Academy has annual percentage reduction in emissions for every country in the world, for both a 1.5°C and a 2°C rise. You can find your nations’ number here in the project that the Academy set up in 2018: cut11percent.org.
The project is pushing for climate laws, which would ensure that global warming is held below 2 °C (1.5°C is virtually impossible). The name of the project symbolises the average percentage (11%) by which emissions have to be cut annually by very highly developed countries, the largest emitters, in order to meet the 2 °C goal. The percentage is calculated by consumption-based emissions, not production of CO2.
Through cut11percent.org, the students are able to develop both their independence and their cooperation skills. The Academy has different teams of students working on different aspects of the project – and the Science Team works on understanding climate change and educating others. The members get to understand the science of climate change better through hands-on experience with research papers, and work with experts in the field.
Alongside IPCC expert reviewer, Birgit van Munster who is the brains behind the numbers, the team has the support of a host of the world’s leading scientists. In fact, the group had a meeting with the world authority on carbon budgets, Professor Kevin Anderson on March 17. He went over all their statistics and analysis and confirmed the conclusions.
“We wanted to understand climate change, not just protest against it.” explained Déborah Romain, a final-year student at EEB2 the first Science Team leader from 2019 , “We can’t protest if we don’t know what we’re protesting against – and what we’re protesting for.”
Though lockdown measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have affected the methods of cooperation within the Climate Academy, its members have adapted.
Usually meeting during school hours, the team has transitioned towards weekly online meetings.
“It is important during this crisis that we do not lose sight of our long-term goals and our commitment to staying well below 2 degrees of warming,” said Zilgalvis.
Other Science Team members also share the same sentiment.
“We haven't fallen asleep,” claimed science team member Augustė Sturlytė, a 10th grade student at EEB2. “We've just transitioned to virtual work. We are keeping things in balance, while making progress and staying motivated.”
While in lockdown, the Science Team, collaborating closely with the Climate Academy’s media team. The aim of this close collaboration is to transform the Science Team’s presentations into bite sizeaudio-visual formats, which will be finalised very soon
Due to the nature of this pandemic, the Science Team cannot hold meetings with their peers to inform them of the science of climate change and action. Therefore, their work had to be transferred onto the internet. According to members of the team, the online transition has not only improved productivity but also increased outreach.
And the basic quest continues.
"We know more or less how to fight Covid; we know exactly how to fight climate change," explains Déborah Romain, “. Emissions must go down – we need to make that into laws, because people won’t change radically if you just ask them kindly. We need to do it quickly.”