How can technology teach climate action?

From 3 to 10 December, the GLF team is in Dubai reporting from COP28. Follow us here for live updates, live interviews and daily recaps.

Assignments plagiarized with ChatGPT. Classrooms Distracted by Smartphones. Homework is ditched in favor of video games. Technology often seems at odds with education, but it doesn’t have to be.

Day nine of COP28 is about youth, children, education and skills, so we set out to find out how people are trying to make education future-proof and engage young people – and everyone else – in climate action.

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It’s a digital world out there

Young people are, for the most part, digital natives – they grew up in a world of computers, where smartphones are everywhere, and they “own” technology.

The number of smartphone owners increased by more than 73 percent between 2016 and 2021, and with COVID-19 forcing much of our interaction online, more people are communicating digitally than ever before.

So much so that a large part of young people’s lives are now lived online.

“By the time people turn 18, they spend less than 10 percent of their lives in school and more and more of their lives online,” says Kay Poh Gek Wasi, chief liaison officer at MeshMinds, a creative studio and non-profit foundation , which uses technology to promote culture and the environment.

With this new technology comes new challenges, especially for knowledge, learning and education – climate or otherwise. Most of all, the misinformation spread on social media.

“I think one of the biggest challenges of our time, in this information age, is making sure there’s really good content on the Internet,” Vasi explains.

“We can never eliminate the bad from the internet: there will always be misinformation, there will always be bad actors, but can we increase the ratio of good information that is verified, that comes from reliable sources?”

“How do we ensure that young people are getting the right kind of information, that they can recognize things like fake news and disinformation?” Vasi asks.

A TikTok video by The Economist about the controversial hosting of COP28 in the UAE.

The old guard embraces the new

Part of the solution may be to identify sources that meet with young people where they already get their information.

“Would you believe The Economist is now on TikTok?” Vasi says. “They are noticing that TikTok is revolutionizing the way young people communicate with each other and share information.”

The numbers are significant—a quarter of all TikTok users are under 20, and nearly half are under 30. And according to a November 2023 report, 43 percent of TikTok users said they regularly get news from the app, a 10 percent increase from last year.

Climate content

Moreover, these networks are increasingly being used by young people for climate education and advocacy.

“Technology is a huge opportunity when it comes to climate change education and advocacy, because it really breaks down barriers,” explains Kupakushe Matangira, Australian Youth for International Climate Engagement delegate.

“Climate change knowledge from universities is now available on podcasts and YouTube. As long as we are interested, we can easily access this knowledge.

Not only institutional knowledge is shared, but also lived experiences and ideas. Sui Han, Global Youth Ambassador for the Global University Climate Alliance, explained: “Technology makes it easier to exchange our knowledge and share our ideas. It strengthens our climate action and lets us know what we are doing and trying to do with each other in the future.”

However, meeting in person and sharing knowledge certainly still has its place.

“What we want to do with the help of technology is to connect people from all over the world. But when we connect people, it’s about building trust, building lasting relationships – and some of that work is best done in person,” says Monash University’s Susie Ho.

“I think what we need is a combination of digital and in-person sessions to strengthen the mutually beneficial long-term connections we need between the education system, between youth, business, academia and society – the kind of partnerships under SDG 17 , which enables climate action.’

Virtual reality can be a valuable tool for teaching young people to care for the planet. Minh Pham, Unsplash

Education through engagement

Another challenge often attributed to technology is the decline in engagement in education: young people are not absorbing textbooks and lectures because they are too used to short videos and instant feedback.

For Vasi, instead of resisting these trends, we should embrace them as part of educational practices.

“Instead of going back to the traditional method of the teacher standing at the front of the classroom, we need to make sure these amazing digital worlds and digital tools are in the hands of teachers to revolutionize the way we deliver information to our children . “

MeshMinds created Sky Farm Island, a free Roblox game where you grow vegetables in vertical farms. Importantly, it’s all rooted in reality: “In Singapore, we actually attach vertical farms to every single block of flats,” says Vasi.

“If we can get kids to play, they’ll learn about the future of food production: aquaponics, hydroponics, what is vertical farming? What is sustainable urban agriculture? How do I grow at home?” Vasi says.

This can inspire kids to help address problems in our food systems, which currently account for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to Vasi.

And MeshMinds are not alone. There are many other organizations using technology to transform climate education, from virtual reality experiences that teach people how to clean the ocean to Pillow VR, which helps promote mental well-being in these tumultuous times.

“A lot of people are using these technologies for good, and that’s what I see paving the way for the future,” says Vasi.

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