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SEAP Outreach: International Studies Summer Institute workshop for teachers

teachers at botanic garden tour

“The earth is our home…charity begins at home…teach climate hope,” declared Mike Hoffman, Cornell Professor and Executive Director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, in his inspiring keynote talk at the 2018 International Studies Summer Institute (ISSI) workshop for teachers: Understanding the Global Impacts of Climate Change. Held in June on the Cornell campus and hosted by the Cornell-Syracuse South Asia Center and the Cornell Southeast Asia Program as part of outreach efforts, the intention of the workshop was to share the effects human behavior is having on climate change across the globe with K-12 teachers and students of education in the hopes of supporting the internationalization of school curricula.

ISSI brought together 14 presenters with collective expertise on climate change in six different world regions—namely South Asia, Southeast Asia, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, Latin America, Africa, and Europe—to share their knowledge with teachers and future teachers and, most importantly, to motivate them to take climate change action in their classrooms. While much of the scientific research and global cultural examples of the effects of climate change appear stark, the urgency of equipping teachers with knowledge and strategies for educating children—our future leaders—on this critical topic cannot be underestimated.

Many presenters touched on ways to reroute the course humans have taken thus far in relationship to the earth’s resources. Change must happen in order to ensure that vital elements critical for survival such as water, air, and food are safely accessible to future generations on a global scale. In his presentation on climate change in Europe, Zellman Warhaft, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell, emphasized the importance of global collaboration, pointing out that we have to be in this together as a planet to reduce greenhouse gases. Exporting solar energy from North Africa to Europe is one example of a cross-cultural mitigation strategy already in place.

While often more responsible for generating a greater portion of deleterious climate effects worldwide, wealthier regions of the world like Europe typically have more economic power and technological resources, compared to poorer countries, to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. Some of these effects include floods, droughts, rising sea levels, salinization, food, protein and livelihood insecurity, and mass migrations due to inhabitable conditions in certain parts of the planet.  

Other presentations focused on the idea that climate change strategies need to be proactive rather than reactive. While mitigating the effects of climate change is important, it is even more important to focus on prevention. For example, Alexandra Moore of the Paleontological Research Institute talked about how Hawai’ian island youth advocate for eco-sustainability that connects scientific knowledge and practices with aboriginal cosmology and culture. Similarly, Orvil White, Associate Professor at SUNY Cortland School of Education, emphasized the link between biodiversity and cultural diversity in Thailand articulating that with the extinction of species comes the loss of culture and ancient ways of being. He stressed the importance of cultural preservation alongside movements to protect the planet.

Carol Hockett, Coordinator of School and Family Programs at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, gave a stellar presentation demonstrating the powerful statements made by artists from all over the world who communicate through captivating images derived of garbage and waste materials. These artists call attention to human behaviors that exacerbate climate change while also showing creative responses to excess waste.

Throughout ISSI teachers learned how to integrate climate change activities into their classes in ways that will give their students ample opportunities to see the impact human behaviors have on the planet and the ways climate change effects can be mitigated. Teaching students how their daily behavior effects climate change and the lives of others in both negative and positive ways is key to taking action to protect the resources, species, and cultures on our planet.

ISSI received sponsorship from the Cornell University Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies as well as the six area studies programs at Cornell: the South Asia Program and the Southeast Asia Program using U.S. Department of Education Title VI funding, the Latin American Studies Program, East Asia Program, Institute for European Studies, and the Institute for African Development. Other sponsors included the Syracuse University South Asia Center and the Teacher’s Professional Development Network.