HONOLULU (May 27) -- Although the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in Burma took much of the world by surprise, one group of high school students in Hawai‘i already knew how vulnerable Burmese citizens were to the increasingly severe storms that could result from global climate change, and had begun efforts to raise funds and educate their peers about the issue.
In January, a Burmese participant in the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Leadership Program visited the Global Issues class at the Academy of the Pacific as part of a speaker series jointly organized by the school and the leadership program. Khin Hnin Htwe told the students that Burma is particularly vulnerable to storms and natural disasters that many scientists believe could result from climate change linked to global emissions of carbon dioxide.
After learning how they themselves contribute to the problem as citizens of one of the world’s foremost carbon-emitting nations, the students immediately arranged a school assembly to educate their classmates and to launch a fundraising campaign to offset their school's CO2 emissions. To raise money for their Climate Adaptation Fund, the students put on a benefit “Eco-Concert” featuring several local high school bands and began publishing a monthly newsletter available for a "respectable donation.”
After the success of the presentation on Burma, East-West Center fellows from Iraq, China, Tanzania, Bhutan and Tahiti were asked to visit the class. Through videos, images and personal stories, the speakers illustrated how dependent developing nations' citizens are on climate stability, and how climate change is already having a devastating impact.
Riziki Ponsiano, a medical doctor from Tanzania, gave a powerful presentation on the health impacts related to drought and climate change in East Africa. Zhengyan Xiong, a Parvin Journalism Fellow from China, discussed the relationship between climate change and the frequency and intensity of storms, using southern China's 2008 snowstorms as an example. The series also included Asia Pacific Leadership Program Fellow Ariinatai Lichtle from Tahiti, who discussed the impact that rising sea level is already having on low-lying Pacific Islands.
The series "really opened my eyes to the dangerous effects global warming can have," said an Academy of the Pacific sophomore named Morgan. Carly, a senior, said she "had no idea how seriously global warming was affecting so many people. Something extreme needs to happen so that the damage already done will not continue!” And Dillon, another senior, promised the East-West Center fellows to "do my part to help lower CO2 emissions so you can have a place to go home to."
For their part, the speakers said their experience at the school was eye-opening as well. Journalist Xiong said preparing her presentation “pushed me to think deeply and critically about an issue challenging us on a daily basis, which I used to ignore. The interaction with the students also helped me understand more about Americans' ideas and the urgency of calling more young people's attention to global issues like climate change."
“I was so surprised at how sympathetic they were," said Ponsiano, the doctor from Tanzania. "They said, ‘it is time to ensure that we reduce our negative impact on these people.’ What the students saw really touched them very deeply.”
Over the last three years, East-West Center fellows from more than 25 countries have visited Academy of the Pacific classrooms as part of the speakers program.
The EAST-WEST CENTER is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations and the governments of the region.
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