Tackling climate change with the next generation of water leaders

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Growing up Mark Ranjram, PhD candidate in Waterloo’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department, felt the way many young children today feel when it comes to global issues: There isn’t anything I can do to help solve these problems. Too many children believe they don’t have a voice or a seat at the table when it comes to tackling global challenges such as climate change. This is something Mark is trying to change through his community-outreach initiative Climate Change and You.

“I’ve been working with primary school children for the last three years, initiating the conversation about climate change during a one-day environmental class I teach,” said Mark, Chair of the Students of the Water Institute Graduate Section (SWIGS). “The kids I worked with would say things like, ‘we can’t do anything about climate change anyways,’ leaving me wondering how I could empower them to feel like their voice mattered since they are the future leaders of tomorrow.”

climate change and you

2018 Climate Change and You Submissions

In 2017 Mark created Climate Change and You in order to engage the next generation of citizens and give them a space to think about climate change and its consequences. Middle-school children are invited to create a piece of artwork – anything from a painting, poem or essay to a piece of music, digital drawing or video – that illustrates what climate change means to them. Specifically, students are encouraged to express their voice and their creativity while answering two questions: 1) Does climate change matter to you? 2) How do you think climate change will impact you in your own neighbourhood?  

“It’s important to empower these kids to believe that they can do something – that they have a voice society values – with the hope that when they begin their adult lives, they'll keep thinking about action on climate change as an important component of their decision making,” said Mark.

Climate change and you submission

2018 Climate Change and You submission

Since 2017 the program has continued to grow in its reach and success. What initially started as an initiative for Toronto and Kitchener primary schools, has grown to include student submissions from Hamilton as well, with teachers continuing to praise the creativity and impact of this program.  

“The Climate Change and You contest was a wonderful opportunity that served to both educate and inspire my students,” said Mr. D. Bortolussi, grade 8 teacher at Hillcrest Public School in Hamilton.

Every student that submits a piece of artwork receives a hand-written letter from a graduate student or professor about their submission. This personalized touch to the competition is one of the reasons fellow SWIGS member, Joy Liu, got involved in this year’s competition.

“I think engaging youth about climate change helps them learn about it and develop their own intrinsic interest,” said Joy, MASc Candidate in Waterloo’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department. “My favourite part of being involved in Climate Change and You is writing the award letters to the participants and winners. I remember getting personal letters like that as a kid and it really inspired me to pursue a field where I am working with the environment.”

2019 Climate Change and You submissions will be featured at the Water Institute’s annual World Water Day celebrations. Mark and Joy are looking for judges who can help pick the “best” entries at each school and who can write a personalized letter to the students they are assigned, which is an important component of the program. If you’re interested in learning more about Climate Change and You, visit the website or email Mark Ranjram.

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