Chile Climate Change Workshop

Sarah Voska

On my first day back in Chile I was on a bus to Catemu, a rural community about an hour outside of the capital city of Santiago and home to an high school that teaches youth to become agricultural technicians. One of our Online Youth Exchange participants, Alvaro, had invited me to the school to speak to a group of middle and high school students at a youth retreat for his church about why christians must care about the environment. The school itself is a working farm, with llamas, peacocks, emus and donkeys, plus fields filled with crops of all sorts. It had lots of open outdoor spaces, beautiful views of the Andean foothills and tall stands of trees to shade the buildings. It was the perfect place for our talk.  

Chile has been subjected to some pretty severe catastrophes in the past few years- besides the earthquakes, tsunamis and volcano eruptions that come from being directly along a tectonic plate- el nino conditions over the past decade has left Chile in a severe drought. Any rainfall that comes often floods the land, as the grounds are baked dry and are unable to absorb the water quickly. In 2015, aluvial flooding in the Atacama desert caused over 50 deaths and thousands were left homeless(ONEMI, 2015). Just this January, Chile experienced the worst forest fires in the country’s history, burning a total of 1.5 million acres of land across the country (CONAF, 2017). The county is quite vulnerable to climate change because of its expanse desert, large glaciers (which provide much of the country’s fresh water) and a long coastline threatened by sea level rise. Chile was one of the first places where I saw the direct effects of climate change for myself, and so I was very eager to try and spur these students into action for the climate.

We started the workshop with an activity: students were split into groups and each given an ecosystem role. Each was assigned a role such as a worm, pine tree, fox, moss, cow and human. They were asked to arrange themselves in order of importance, and then make a human pyramid (think classic cheerleader pyramid) to demonstrate the ordering they had chosen. Once they constructed their pyramid, we went over to take a picture, and while they were about to snap the lenses, I tried to remove the “least important”. It was so funny to watch the face of the “most important” all the way up at the top when I threatened to pull out their base! When they all calmed down and were seated again, we talked about how even the “least important” parts- the worms, algae and dirt- are important in creating the basis upon which life can be built. We then talked about how the “most important”-the humans- put a weight on the rest of the ecosystem (the kids mentioned having boney knees digging into their backs), creating a burden. Over time, that burden can cause the ecosystem to fall down, especially if critical pieces (keystone species) are removed.

After that, we moved into the real brunt of the talk: why should christians care about the environment?  In Romans 8, the earth “groans” under the weight of humanity; even then, stewardship of the environment was considered necessary to protect ecosystems from man himself. In 2015, Pope Francis listed off plenty of good reasons why christians must care about climate in his encyclical, Laudato Si. In it, the Pope talked about the human rights violations that came from climate change, and how Jesus gave mandates throughout the Bible to care for the poor, saying “blessed are the humble in spirit, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3).

Through the talk, the students not only learned about why they should care, but also how they can take action. By spreading the use of the #ClimateSign, volunteering with local and international organizations, pressuring decision makers and being more conscientious of their own uses of natural resources, we as individuals can make a collective push for global action to protect our environment.

For more information on the theological basis of my talk, contact me at onlineyouthexchage@gmail.com To get involved with Care About Climate- from wherever you are around the world, fill out the interest form here!