Grannies and kids, evangelicals and clowns, they are figuring out new ways to act – and act out – about the biggest crisis of our times.
The first episode of Stepping Up has just rolled out. This story, called The Loudest Smallest Voices, will make you laugh and cry. Be sure to check it out at steppinguppodcast.org or wherever you get your podcasts.
Here is a taste of this first tale:
12-year-old Kiran Garewal visits the lab of climate scientist Dr. Coelho. As he walks in, he sees a room cluttered with science equipment and then passes into another room humming with the sound of bubbles gurgling in large aquarium tanks. Kiran is there because he’s heard from his friends that coral reefs are dying and he wants to ask Dr. Coelho why. She’s an expert on how climate change is killing corals around the world – a process known as coral bleaching.
Listen to the full podcast:
Kiran’s interest in coral was piqued when, several months earlier, his friends came back from a trip to the islands of Palau in the South Pacific. They told him that they went kayaking and saw huge swaths of white dead coral. It was scary to discover that the oceans were in such a state of disaster. And it was Kiran’s role as “Climate Change Challenger” to get to the bottom of it.
Kiran and his friends are part of a club called Heirs to Our Oceans – a group of 17 kids who are on a mission to save the oceans. These kids live in the Bay Area and are home-schooled using a curriculum that is hands-on and project-based. The club arose out of that curriculum. By studying the oceans, they’re learning to research, write, speak and think critically.
Back in the lab, Kiran learns that coral bleaching comes from heat stress – and it can kill almost an entire reef if it’s intense enough. He asks the professor about the impacts on the food web when this happens.
“As the corals start to die, you start to have less and less fish in those areas because they don’t have enough habitat anymore to survive,” says Dr. Coelho. Kiran suggests they can move to another habitat.
“Oh no, no,” she responds. “Those relationships that evolve over thousands of years, you can’t replace them like that.”
She snaps her fingers.
“If we have no coral we’re not going to have a lot of other things too. Think about all the human beings that depend on those ecosystems. It’s not pretty.”
The five kids in the Heirs to Our Oceans club who are focusing on climate change impacts are stunned that grown ups could have messed things up so badly. So, they’ve decided to do more than learn about how climate change is changing the watery underworld – they are stepping up to take action.
Along with Kiran, the Climate Change Challenger, there’s Dakota, aka Dr. Sea Otter. Anna who is Professor Kelp. Elliot goes by Acidification Obliterator. And then Charley, who has come up with a nifty palindrome: Coral La Roc.
These kids are teaching other school children. They are marching in demonstrations. The are writing to state and national legislators. And they have attracted the attention of preeminent climate scientists who are advising them and getting them into symposia where they speak to adult audiences as well.
As Anna says, “When we stand up and speak in front of a group of adults, they’ve no clue about what we’re going to say. They have no clue if we’re going to talk about climate change, or if we’re going to talk about, like, how unicorns are pink. They’re wondering what will these children say? Why they here?” By the time they’re done, the Heirs have won the admiration and respect of the room.
These kids come from privileged backgrounds – but with the help of their parents, they are designing a curriculum that can be used anywhere – in public schools, after school clubs or ocean youth organizations. Their primary mission and biggest challenge is getting more kids involved. Their plan is to turn their Heirs to Our Ocean club into a world-wide movement. So far they have chapters ranging from Kansas to the Pacific Islands.
These young activists’ understanding and articulation of complex concepts is remarkable: the chemistry behind ocean acidification, the inter-relationship between kelp and coral and sea otters. At the same time, they are as playful as puppies; cute, silly, irreverent. And you can step into their world in the first episode of the Stepping Up podcast.