Museums Can Do Better – Supporting Youth Involvement in Climate Action – Recommendations from Two UBC Students

Today’s guest post is written by Gillian and Wei Yan, current interns at the Museum of Vancouver.

From protests on university campuses to alliances such as the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, there is no doubt that young people are becoming more aware of the detrimental environmental effects caused by rapid climate change in the recent years. Inspired by many global climate activists, school children and young adults have brought about the prevalence of #climateaction around the world.

This blog focused on works by museums and scholars involved in climate change justice and awareness. However, an important group in any field of activism is the youth – they are innovative, creative, and resourceful. They are the future of the world and will be dealing with climate change effects for a long time. Thus, what can museums offer to young people who are already involved in the climate justice movement or are interested in learning more about these issues?

Technology & Storytelling

The advancement in technology has made storytelling much more exciting and interactive. Today, museums can use virtual reality to display how climate change affects everyone. For example, a study at Stanford has shown that virtual reality can exhibit the effects of ocean acidification. Users are more engaged and convinced when they can see, feel and hear from the perspectives of other living beings that are non-humanlike. In the Stanford example, researchers found that participants became more understanding of the effects of ocean acidification. As referenced in the previous post,  “Design for Future” storytelling can effectively build empathy in people. Thus, when users are immersed in the plot of a virtual reality environment, they can understand the effects of climate change more viscerally. Science centres and museums with inhouse expertise in environmental studies can develop short video game series that focuses on climate change. In addition, strategic partnerships with environmental experts in academia or private sectors can engage mainstream gamers to produce short clips inspired by popular games and movies such as Angry Birds 2 or Our Planet. We realize these initiatives require a significant amount of financial resources and that museums typically work with limited funds. Having said that, there are philanthropists and foundations willing to support ambitious climate-education projects. Museums are highly trusted sources of information which makes them great platforms to share essential information with youth. However, all this good work by museums has to be communicated in a format that speaks to the audience.

Social Media as Ultimate Megaphone

Social media is a powerful tool for young people. Museums can use various social platforms to connect with young people to get them interested in any climate change movements. For instance, collaborating with youth-led climate organizations such as Youth Climate Lab to create effective social media campaigns can help museums reach a wider audience.With viral hashtags such as #FridaysForFuture, youth led movements have shown a real-life impact. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old climate activist from Sweden, started the movement to skip school every Friday to protest against climate change in front of the Swedish parliament. She documented her protests on Instagram and Twitter, and now students are following suit with youth climate strikes being held worldwide. Nowadays, youth climate activists use social media as a tool to elevate their voices to find support and empower others.

Gaining Traction with Public Programming

In addition to providing venues for events, museums can reach out to younger people by offering programs dedicated to climate change. Educational workshops on reducing carbon footprints, conventions with climate change panelists, hackathons, and collaborating with youth climate organizations such as  #Hack4Climate as well as UBS’s Common Energy are examples of museums offering impactful programs for people of all ages.

School programs on climate change designed for elementary and high school age students could address the causes of climate change which will propagate the role of young people to mitigate environmental degradation. After-school and weekend events programming involving young people allows them to be involved with climate change activism and provide a safe space for them to share their ideas.

Photo by Lorie Shaull on flickr

Be involved

For older students in high school or university, museums can provide more volunteer or internship opportunities dedicated to climate change action. Young people may also take an interest in working with museums to create effective climate change exhibitions and programs. The museums can also work with youth communities such as the  Sierra Student Coalition, Climate Guides, International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM), (or any local climate action platform) to collaborate on climate actions.  For instance, The Journey hosted by EIT-Climate – KIC and partner organisations around Europe is a summer school where participants tackle climate challenges presented to them.

This is a great opportunity for transgenerational knowledge exchange. Young people deserve a prevalent place to paint their ideas as they represent the living generation most impacted by climate change. They would have a better understanding of the type of medium that attracts their peers. 

Photo by Lorie Shaull on Wikimedia Commons

Positive relationships

As mentioned earlier, Greta Thunberg is a 16-year old climate scientist who skips classes every Friday to sit outside the parliament to influence politicians to act on climate change. Now, she is sailing across the Atlantic to attend climate conferences. If the youth can give up their time to pursue or initiate changes to mitigate climate change, the authorities at many museums could reflect on the trade-offs they can make for the environment.

When organizations, no matter how small or large, create programs for youth and reach out to youth activists, they show that they care about the youth’s opinions, their future, and are giving them the chance to access different platforms. In reframing and deepening their relationships with youth groups in regard to climate education, museums will demonstrate that they are determined to find new avenues, new synergies to problem-solve collectively across generations, and create solutions for a climate-safe future.

Gillian and Wei Yan are undergraduate students at the University of British Columbia who are currently completing their internship at the Museum of Vancouver this summer. In June 2019, they travelled to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia as part of a course seminar and explored different museums. 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. mchriscastle

    Wow! This is such a great post.Thank you Gillian and Wei! Not only do you help to document some of the the great climate action museums are already undertaking BUT you offer a way forward for those museums who may not yet have taken this step.

    In your opinion, what is the #1 thing a museum could do to support the youth climate movement?

  2. lschober1231

    Hi mchriscastle,

    Thanks so much for your comment! We believe the #1 thing a museum could do to support the youth climate movement is by having museums support the ongoing youth initiatives on climate action by collaborating with them and bridging connections for change to happen even more effectively.

    – Wei Yan and Gillain

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