Contributed by Keith Peterman, Professor of Chemistry, York College of Pennsylvania
Climate change is the defining sustainability issue of our time. Today’s youth are the first generation to feel the adverse impacts of climate change. And, in the words of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, “the last generation that can put an end to climate change.”
Students representing the American Chemical Society (ACS) aim to help put an end to climate change by using the power of education and the highest decision making authority on climate change within the UN to engage youth in the climate change discourse. “Education and climate literacy” is one of four recommended Actions for addressing climate change in the ACS Public Policy Statement. In support of this Action, the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement sends ACS student representatives each year to the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP)—dubbed by media as “the annual UN climate conference.”
Paul Anastas—widely considered “the Father of Green Chemistry—was asked in a recent interview, “How can green chemistry address climate change?” He responded, “Alternative energies that are non-fossil based would be the key way that green chemistry is addressing them…the power and potential of green chemistry, green engineering, [and] sustainable design is to get us off our current trajectory and do it in a way that is going to result in just a far better world.” Anastas spoke of the need to communicate with policy makers and the public, “You need to speak the language of the tribe you are talking to.” His comments strongly endorse the mission of the ACS student representatives who are leveraging social media to engage their tribe in the climate change discourse.
The ACS student COP climate literacy project was launched in December 2010 as a kickoff for the then-upcoming International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011). Two students represented ACS at the December 2010 COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico and posted articles under the C&E News Editor’s Blog.
Since then, the project has grown to accommodate students from across the US leveraging the maximum number of UN accreditation slots allotted to ACS. Students ambassadors have represented ACS at COP 17 (2011 Durban, South Africa), COP 18 (2012 Doha, Qatar), COP 19 (2013 Warsaw, Poland), and most recently the December 2014 COP 20 in Lima, Peru.
Each year, the students have increased their outreach mechanisms. They’ve developed a Students On Climate Change web page to post and archive articles and photos and expanded their presence in social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.
In preparation for the COP, students first meet and coalesce as a team at ACS National Headquarters in Washington, DC. During a two-day session, they receive instruction on media outreach at ACS and travel to Capitol Hill and governmental agencies—Department of Energy and Department of State—for off-the-record informational meetings and technical advice.
Eight students selected to represent ACS at the upcoming December 2015 COP 21 in Paris are currently holding video conferences and communicating via email as they identify each of their individual focuses for Paris.
Students present outcomes of their COP activities at a symposium during the Spring National ACS Meeting. At the 2013 National ACS Meeting in San Francisco, the students held a first-ever live Global Student Summit at a national meeting. As well, they make presentations via Facetime from on-location during each COP with audiences at their home institutions. Many students have written articles for their local newspapers and been interviewed by various media outlets.
Green Chemistry is at the forefront of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. This year’s 2015 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards favored innovative projects that tackle climate change and promote bio-based fuels.
The ACS student self-written mission statement is to “Provide information and a platform for clear environmental discussion to give people the words and the tools to continue that discussion in their communities.” Climate change is a civilization challenging issue. You are invited to join the discussion in your effort to put an end to climate change. As a reader of this article who is committed to the Principles of Green Chemistry, you are invited to join the discussion in your effort to put an end to climate change.
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