Interview on August 1, 2016 with:
Will DiGravio, Founder of Students for Climate Action
1) How do you connect youth climate activists together?
Prior to forming SFCA, Andrew and I repeatedly talked about the overwhelmingly large size and scope of the climate justice movement. There are so many ways that youth can get involved with the movement–research, education, activism, journalism, etc.–and we found that the various branches were not talking enough with one another. We believed (and still do) that by not collaborating enough, we are not maximizing the impact that we can have. One of the things that we are trying to do is build an interactive map that highlights various climate projects across the United States. That includes recycling campaigns, research projects, advocacy training, and any and all things related to climate justice. By doing so, we hope to provide an easy way for those committed to this cause to work together.
2) What are the similarities and differences that you see when you’re doing trainings for sixth graders and sixty year olds?
The main difference between training a sixth grader and a sixty year-old is that the sixth grader is, most likely, learning about climate change for the first time, whereas the sixty year old has heard Al Gore talking about climate change for three decades and has heard so much about it that he/she doesn’t know what to believe. I give the same presentation to all age groups, and what I have found is that the younger groups, naturally, have a more open mind; they believe you and are more focused on the big picture. They don’t want to know how climate change causes flooding, they want to know when it is going to happen, what the impacts are, and if there is anything that they can do to stop it. They’re less concerned with data trends and more concerned with how it is going to affect them. Older people are the opposite; they’re much more concerned with data and want each anomaly to be explained.
Once, after giving a presentation to around one hundred eighth graders, I had their 50 year-old teacher come up to me and question the validity of NOAA’s ice-core records of atmospheric carbon dioxide. While not all adults are like that, they are definitely more hesitant when it comes to accepting information. That being said, nearly all of the people that we train get it. Understanding the basics of how and why climate change is happening is not very complicated. Our trainings cover basic material, and whether the audience is comprised of sixth graders or sixty year-olds, there is always a moment where you can see the light go off in someone’s head and they get it; they understand what climate change is, how it’s happening, what the repercussions are, and what we can do about it.
3) When you do your trainings, what gets folks most excited?
I’d say the thing that gets folks most excited is when they realize you don’t have to be a “science person” to understand and do something about climate change. One of the first things I tell people is that science was always my worst subject in school; I hated chemistry, and chemistry hated me. At Middlebury, I’m a dual-major in political science and film, and I am dreading the semester when I am finally forced to fulfill my science requirement. I want to be a journalist and, even if I wanted to, couldn’t be a scientist, but I can still understand and address the problem, and be active in this movement. The preconceived notion that many people have about the climate justice movement is that you have to have a science background and its just not true. People get excited when they realize that they can understand science that has “real-life” implications, and the best part about the climate justice movement is that, once they have grasped the concept, they have an immediate way to take action. What I have is a profound respect and admiration for science. Once people realize that that’s all you need, they get excited.