Forests, chopsticks, loco moco and an Arctic explorer find a connection at Students’ Day

Nearly 1,000 Hawaii students descended on the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress for Students’ Day. Those who passed through the Forest Pavilion were treated to a unique local perspective on forests and a visit from National Geographic Explorer Paul Rose. 

Man and microphone on stage

On the morning of September 6 2016, hundreds of 11-18 year olds from across the Hawaiian Islands gathered at the Hawaii Convention Center for the IUCN World Conservation Congress. This inaugural IUCN Congress Students’ Day was more than just another lesson in environmental science. The point of the event was to challenge the students to engage in conservation thinking, or ‘design thinking’ as realised by partners Oceanit and Kupu. The morning began with calls from Hawaii’s First Lady Dawn Ige and IUCN Goodwill Ambassador Alison Sudol, encouraging the students to take immediate and real action in global conservation. Then, popular local musician Jack Johnson worked the crowd into a state of upbeat excitement for learning about global conservation and discussing the challenges ahead.

Following the assembly, the students were divided into groups of about 100 and filtered out to the pavilions on the Forum floor. The Forest Pavilion received two of these groups in turn. The Forest Pavilion’s presentation began in a peculiar fashion as Cory Nash of the IUCN Global Forest Programme proceeded to eat a local dish called loco moco on stage while the students sat and curiously watched. As Cory ate, he deliberately un-wrapped disposable chopsticks, took a single bite, tossed the used chopsticks behind him, and started again with a fresh pair, much to the chagrin of the shocked students. This set the stage for a conversation on the uses of wood in our lives and the values we place on it.

The discussion began with a realisation about the vast number of trees needed globally each year for an activity like eating with disposable chopsticks, and progressed to the importance of trees in our lives and their role in the fight against global climate change. The focus then switched to a live demonstration of global tree cover and the changes to that cover over time as performed by 20 volunteer students. Special emphasis was placed on the rapid deforestation of the past 200 years. As the students posing as the world’s trees were ‘chopped’ off of the stage, they began to get a sense of the increasing rate of global deforestation, and the gravity of the situation. After the demonstration, the students were asked to consider what they think the state of the world’s forests will be like in 25 years, and how they can take action to influence it.

National Geographic Explorer Paul Rose then took the stage and asked the audience to help him understand forests – a landscape in which he has rarely worked. To the excitement of the crowd, he went on to convey some of his experiences exploring the polar regions where ice and snow dominate the landscape. This organically led to the students asking questions about how the Arctic is changing due to climate change; to which Paul acknowledged that the effects of climate change on the arctic are extraordinarily evident. Conceptual bridges between melting Arctic ice and importance of forests for carbon storage were created as a result, providing an opportunity for the students to actively engage in profound conservation thinking.

The question is – what will they do with what they learned?

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