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Bringing research into the classroom: What pupils in Vienna have learned from our module on climate change and migration

mai 31, 2023

Kerstin Brinnich, Lea Müller-Funk, and school students of GRG 23, a high school in Alterlaa, Vienna

One week after testing our TIES Module on Climate change and migration in a workshop in a high school in Vienna, Alterlaa, in February 2023, with project lead Lea Müller-Funk and team member and teacher Kerstin Brinnich, we asked 16-year-old students to summarize what they have learned in their own words.

So much in advance: a lot!

These are their words:

To begin with, we analyzed and compared various images showing climate events. We distinguished which events happened quickly and which happened slowly. The first photograph was taken in Senegal and showed boats washed ashore as sea levels were rising. This event happened slowly. The second image was taken in the Philippines and portrayed a city devastated by a typhoon. This event happened quickly. In the third picture, we could see a building in Kiribati collapsing into the ocean. The sea level rise there happens slowly but steadily. The fourth picture was taken in Germany, in Erftstadt. You could see that the city was flooded. This event happened quickly.
(Onur Curi, Jason Seidl, Oskar Gao, Felix Viehberger, Ida Farkas)

Then we learned more about these contexts. The nation of Kiribati, for example, is at risk because the islands are just above sea level. With climate change, the sea level is rising, which endangers the population of Kiribati. Other problems include the vulnerable water supply system and tropical cyclones. The goal of the Kiribati government is to have climate change recognized as a legitimate reason for people to apply for asylum. Additionally, the President bought land in Fiji as a temporary safe haven. There is also a project in which 50,000 mangroves are planted on the coasts. Their roots are intended to reduce land erosion. Some citizens have already migrated to other countries. In the future, many will be forced to go abroad if the situation in Kiribati does not improve. But migrating is currently difficult because there is not yet the option to apply for asylum as a climate refugee.
(Kosta Orlic, Nadine Schmid-Schäfer)

In July 2021, there was a flood disaster in Germany, mainly in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, where many people died. The fire and rescue service responded promptly with the right skills and equipment. Many volunteers helped with the reconstruction and the state also provided a lot of support, such as tax breaks. In addition, an early flood warning system was installed. The disaster triggered a debate in Germany about the urgency of dealing with climate change.
(Emma Koch, Julian Le)

In Senegal, people suffer from coastal floodings caused by rising sea levels. They feel neglected by the government which fails to offer support. The fishermen of Guet N’dar don’t catch anything anymore, so they move to Mauritania to fish for a few months. However, they do not stay. After a few months, they take the money they earned there and return to Guet N’dar. Thus, they are able to build houses for their families that are further away from the sea and can stay in Senegal.
(Marela Duric, Larissa Grolig, Lara Mustedanagic)

In the example of the Philippines, the focus was particularly on the government’s reaction to the typhoon and on how satisfied or dissatisfied the residents were with the measures. We were also asked to put ourselves in the shoes of the people affected by the disaster and decide for ourselves whether we would have stayed, moved or emigrated. The typhoon that hit the Philippines is a very good example of the effects of climate change and the migration it might create. It shows how government decisions affect people’s lives.
(Alexander Pock, Matthias Bauer, Manuel Maschtera)

In the second part of the workshop, we performed a play. It was about different life situations in different climate scenarios. The actors were asked to make their decisions based on these scenarios.

  • Scenario 1: The sea level rises by a few meters and most coastal regions become uninhabitable.
  • Scenario 2: The average temperature increases dramatically. This leads to great damages in agriculture.
  • Scenario 3: Drinking water is becoming a rare commodity and very expensive. Even states with sufficient access to clean water must ration the resource.
  • Scenario 4: All of the above scenarios occur, and climate change is recognized as a reason to be granted refugee status.

(Stefan Blindu, Jonathan Lamprecht)

Six volunteers each received a card with some information about their characters (financial situation, age, gender, family, job). Then they had to position themselves on an imagined line. Depending on how the different scenarios affected them, there were five options to react:

  • You have to leave => 2 steps forward
  • You want to leave => 1 step forward
  • It does not affect you => 0 steps
  • You want to stay => 1 step backwards
  • You have to stay => 2 steps backwards

(Ajdin Hasanovic, Alexander Wojna, Carolina Calvo Villalain)

For example, Sarah played an elderly woman with three children and a low income. Thiemo was a well-paid and divorced young man with no children. Both lived in the Philippines. Our teachers read out the different scenarios one after the other and our task was to decide whether we can or were forced to stay in our home country or whether we can or were forced to move away. As an older woman, Sarah mostly decided to stay in the Philippines. Thiemo, on the other hand, mostly felt free to decide as he had a good income and no family to worry about.
(Sarah Vötsch, Thiemo Wihart)

What personal experiences did we have as actors?

  • “As a car engineer from Southern Germany and having both a family and a well-paid job, I found that I didn’t need to move as I wasn’t that badly affected. »
  • “As I was a politician from Tarawa, Kiribati, and had a husband, two children and a good income, I wasn’t as badly affected due to my financial situation, and I had a couple of opportunities to move away. »
  • “I was a farmer from Southern Germany, married with two children and inherited the farm from my parents. Having to take care of my family and the farm without a high income, I felt that I could not leave. I felt tied to my home even in exceptional situations such as environmental disasters.”

(Ajdin Hasanovic, Alexander Wojna, Carolina Calvo Villalain)

Our ideas for learning more

  • Reflections on how difficult it is to relocate an entire country (e.g. Tuvalu)
  • Possibilities to create digital archives to preserve cultures
  • Reading interviews with people affected by climate change

(Jacob Wonderka, Raphael Hainitz)