Ipswich resident Sarah Brown stands in front of a microphone at the First Church in Ipswich, and asks a group of adults to think about climate change. She waits. Everyone in the room has been given information, they’ve been prompted, but where they go from there is their choice. After the moment of quiet contemplation, Sarah and her fellow Climate Cafe organizers, all high school students, explain the rules. “Listen” is rule number one. Everyone gets a chance to speak, number two. Above all, all participants will respect each other, even if they disagree. Not bad ground rules at all.
The attendees were divided up into circle groups, with one or two student organizers to each group. There to guide, but not control the discussion, and to make sure the rules are followed. Moving through the room, you wouldn’t have found anyone stepping out of line. Instead, the
energized and friendly conversations swirled all around. In one group, lead by Jackson Tham, they discussed how being personally affected by water quality can alter your view of how water is used around you. Jaedin Guldenstern and Kendall Woods’s group spoke about how to overcome the ease with which residents of coastal communities can put environmental issues out of their minds when not immediately faced with the consequences.
That was a reoccurring theme. Each group had at least one
person who had been touched by drought, poor water quality, and/or flooding. How, though, could the students endeavor to keep climate and environmental issues an ongoing topic before such disasters strike? Out of sight out of mind, it was clear, wasn’t the solution.
What is needed, Jackson Kealey spoke for his group, was to sell the idea of change: to get people and communities to change their habits; first they would need to create an awareness of those habits. Every group had its own take on how this might be achieved. Maddie Conway’s group discussed the long reaching effects of climate destabilization. Not simply the after-effects of catastrophes, but the challenges that would be faced over time, challenges that would harm both the economy and community of towns and cities.
To approach these challenges is a daunting task. As one Cafe participant said, accepting the realities of climate change is disheartening. But, he added, there is also hope. There is hope in human ingenuity and inventiveness. There is hope in compassion and generosity. There is hope.
At Ipswich River Watershed Association, we see hope in the amazing students who led the Climate Cafe. Thank you to Charlotte Graf, Bailey Fogel, Sarah Brown, Jackson Tham, Jackson Kealey, Jaedin Guldenstern, Kendall Woods, and Maddie Conway. If real change is made by virtue of questioning how things are and acting to make them better, then the future is in good hands.