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PVPA students tackle climate change at mock UN summit

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  • Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-grader Aisha Diallo, in her role as a delegate from Australia, reads her position paper to classmates gathered in the school theater for an all-day climate change summit on Monday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-grader Aisha Diallo, in her role as a delegate from Australia, reads her position paper to classmates gathered in the school theater for an all-day climate change summit on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eliza Bannasch, right, takes notes as fellow Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-graders Brahm Masla and Brendan Drinkwater, standing left, in their roles as delegates from Bolivia, present their position papers at an all-day climate change summit on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Eliza Bannasch, right, takes notes as fellow Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-graders Brahm Masla and Brendan Drinkwater, standing left, in their roles as delegates from Bolivia, present their position papers at an all-day climate change summit on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eliza Bannasch, right, takes notes as fellow Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-graders Brahm Masla and Brendan Drinkwater, standing left, in their roles as delegates from Bolivia, present their position papers at an all-day climate change summit on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Eliza Bannasch, right, takes notes as fellow Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-graders Brahm Masla and Brendan Drinkwater, standing left, in their roles as delegates from Bolivia, present their position papers at an all-day climate change summit on Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-grader Aisha Diallo, in her role as a delegate from Australia, reads her position paper to classmates gathered in the school theater for an all-day climate change summit on Monday. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Eliza Bannasch, right, takes notes as fellow Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-graders Brahm Masla and Brendan Drinkwater, standing left, in their roles as delegates from Bolivia, present their position papers at an all-day climate change summit on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Eliza Bannasch, right, takes notes as fellow Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School ninth-graders Brahm Masla and Brendan Drinkwater, standing left, in their roles as delegates from Bolivia, present their position papers at an all-day climate change summit on Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

— It’s one thing to learn about the scientific facts and theories behind climate change. It’s quite another to take a hard look at the politics involved.

Ninth-graders at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School got some of both this year as they prepared for the school’s sixth environmental summit, which culminated April 29 in a day long event that featured a formal debate as students played the part of delegates to the United Nations doing the hard work of presenting position papers on the issue.

More than 65 students stepped into the shoes of U.N. delegates to debate the global effects of climate change in a school project developed by PVPA’s environmental science teacher Tim Brown. The Environmental Summit was a chance for students to role play as international delegates presenting position papers on the consequences of environmental change in different countries around the world.

“At PVPA we’re expected to integrate the performing arts into our teaching,” said Brown, who held the first mock summit six years ago. “It’s part of the school’s charter.”

In school last week, students dressed in suits and ties, or clothes meant to reflect the countries they were representing. Students stayed in character all day, as they made speeches based on their academic work and research, and then met in caucuses with delegates from other nations to discuss solutions.

“It’s a way to help students understand climate change from a global perspective,” said Brown, “We’re largely buffered from the effects here in the U.S. Researching these countries helps students see just how much of an impact climate change is having on people in other parts of the world.”

In-class work

Students prepared for the project in their science classes, spending about four weeks learning the science behind the carbon cycle and greenhouse emissions, and then a month on the social sciences, studying the politics involved in addressing climate change.

Students were assigned countries to research and represent, and delegates from each country prepared position papers on climate change challenges in their countries to present to other United Nations delegates.

“I used to teach just the science behind climate change,” says Brown, “But as we got into it, I found that I had to address the social and political aspects of the issue as well.”

Students said taking part in the summit gave them a sense of the political challenges involved in addressing climate change.

“I never realized how much politics was a part of it,” says Tess Mathewson, who represented China. “Every country has its own agenda.”

One of the issues debated at the summit was how a country’s economic status impacted its environmental policy, and whether a developing country such as India or Nepal had the same obligation to cap greenhouse emissions as countries like the U.S. or Japan.

Madeline Green, representing Nepal, said that many third world countries are stymied by economics.

“I represent a developing nation so I can’t support ending climate change the same way because I don’t have the money,” said Green.

Another student, a delegate from India, argued that although her country is considered one of the top three producers of greenhouse gas in the world, overpopulation and high poverty levels mean that India should be allowed more emissions than other countries because 30 percent of India’s population lives below the poverty line and many do not have adequate access to food and clean water.

Indeed, many presentations focused on the responsibility of developed nations in acting to stop global warming and help developing nations.

Sam Gagnon, who represented the United States at the Summit, said it was difficult to present on his own country.

“When you’re presenting on the U.S., it’s personal, it’s like yeah, we really do have a problem here.” Gagnon says that the U.S. has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world. He also said that the project gave him a sense of how urgent the issue of climate change has become.

When asked how people in the U.S. can begin to address climate change, many students replied, with “education.”

“As far as students go, I think the first step is education,” said Mathewson, “You never know later on in life who will be in a position to make a difference.”

Brown said students came up with a lot of great ideas, but equally important, they did some deep thinking.

“I want students to take away an understanding that this is a global issue, but there is no right answer,” said Brown, “Even me, as the teacher, I don’t have the right answer. I also want them to understand that what we do makes a dif ference. Our actions have a global effect.”

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