Education

Mock U.N. climate summit engages students in global warming debate

Team China explains how they plan to reduce CO2 emissions during a mock UN climate summit held at the former Frost Museum of Science in Coral Gables. “Before this workshop I put a lot of the blame on China but I didn’t really think about how the U.S. is relying on them,” said Brianna Cineus, 16, a junior at William H. Turner Technical High School.
Team China explains how they plan to reduce CO2 emissions during a mock UN climate summit held at the former Frost Museum of Science in Coral Gables. “Before this workshop I put a lot of the blame on China but I didn’t really think about how the U.S. is relying on them,” said Brianna Cineus, 16, a junior at William H. Turner Technical High School. For the Miami Herald

During a mock-U.N. climate summit held over the weekend at the former Frost Museum of Science in Coconut Grove, 60 high school students from Frost Science’s Upward Bound program joined 120 students from StarBot Academy, Breakthrough Miami’s middle school STEM Program, to discuss sea level rise, debate ways to cut fossil fuels to lower CO2 emissions and hash out other pressing issues affecting the planet.

In concurrence with the climate change conference in Paris, the students formed 30 teams representing countries from around the world during the day-long World Climate Project workshop, where they negotiated climate agreements to help stabilize global average temperatures. Their collective goal: find ways to limit global warming.

Frost Science was among 176 organizations worldwide that hosted mock-U.N. climate negotiations for local students. In August, the White House launched the Climate Interactive’s World Climate Project as a resource to help people “engage in acts of leadership on climate change.”

Wayne Holmes, 18, a junior at William H. Turner Technical High School in Northwest Miami-Dade, was on team U.S.A. and is also a member Upward Bound program, which helps first-generation college-bound students prepare for study in the STEM fields.

“I thought it was going to be kind of boring at first but it’s actually very interesting because you have long debates and disagreements and agreements and then it comes together and you’re able to have an understanding of everything,” he said. “We had to understand what we’re going up against,” he said of representing the United States. “Once you go on stage you have to have a mindset and a plan of how to react in the debate.”

During the workshops, climate scientists from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science gave teams a crash course in current climate issues and the dangers of rising CO2 emissions. Then, the students used a computer simulator called C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support) to better understand long-term climate impacts.

Each country or group of countries then developed a plan of action to come up with solutions to address and help combat climate change before the timed and heated afternoon debates began on stage. Many countries pointed fingers at the United States and China for lack of accountability in emissions. Then, the U.S. and China blamed each other for greenhouse gases.

Eldredge “Biff” Bermingham, Frost’s chief science officer, moderated the debates between developed nations and developing nations, which comprised 8-10 students per country.

“It’s a mix between science and negotiation,” he said of the workshop, “which I think transfers back into the home and back into the community. We know in this country we have a lot of people who are not interested in climate change or don’t believe that man has much to do with it. Telling people that ‘the science says this’ is clearly not being impactful; these kids are beginning to realize the science is important but that it’s not only about science. It’s about listening to other perspectives, communicating, and then negotiating based on that.”

On stage, team China’s response to reducing emissions while still producing items in factories to be shipped overseas was to lower production rates or create a special tax for environmental research, to help with reducing air pollution.

“Before this workshop I put a lot of the blame on China but I didn’t really think about how the U.S. is relying on them,” said Brianna Cineus, 16, a junior at Turner Tech who was assigned to be on team China. “The U.S. is putting their carbon footprint on China and not really owning up to their own footprint because we’re using them so much. I didn’t see that before.”

“The kids got to hear the real science of what’s going on,” Bermingham said, “and then they got to step back and realize that it’s not just about the science.”

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