Principles for changing the climate…of global summits

Open up the phone lines!

So we had our little learning village today with the kids at Aine’s learning centre which my partner, daughter and I designed.  We explored these questions of what kind of inner climate is needed to engage around questions of climate change and the kids followed the energy.  They got really interested in what kinds of things they could say to the global leadership meeting in Copenhagen.  They wanted to convey a sense that, yes this is a serious issue, but how you choose to meet together matters.  They were dismayed and discouraged by the prospect of a lot of angry and worried people sitting around for a few days trying to reach a creative agreement.  One kid said that she doesn’t work very well if she thinks there is a tiger behind her about to eat her.

So we had a little circle and talked about what we know about principles of meeting together.  The kids generated this list:

  • Be serious but not bitter
  • Optimistic
  • Not grim
  • Respectfully, without insulting each other
  • talk with civility
  • peacefully
  • consider the whole planet
  • Be calm
  • happily and confidently
  • include everyone and make sure everyone has a voice
  • be positive and useful
  • get different opinions
  • have fun
  • break into groups to get more ideas
  • make sure groups get mixed up.
  • no shouting
  • come with an open mind
  • talk nicely and treat everyone as if they were a relative
  • make sure to move.  maybe dance together.
  • feast
  • have music and entertainers, and hire a jester to make fun of yourself.

We even took this advice, and broke into groups to see what kinds of things we could brainstorm around climate change solutions.  The kids worked for 40 minutes in a world cafe, and then we shared some ideas (“Someone needs to develop shoes that massage your feet while you walk.”  “Busses should be free”).  We discovered that if we practice some of the principles, they really do result in creative thinking, and a more civil tone.

So the kids were pretty clear that they didn’t have answers about climate change, but they did have recommendations about HOWthe leaders should meet in order to find creative and sustaining solutions.  We made four videos (the kids chose to do sketches) which we are editing and will get quick parental approval before sending off to Copenhagen through various channels.

My takeaway on this is that there is a lot of science and highly technical information that is required before you can make useful contributions to the global warming debate.  Very few of us have access to that level of understanding and while we might have some good ideas, we don’t really have the ability to engage at the level of understanding that results in concrete solutions.

We do however all have experience of conversations that work.  Youth are very clear about ways in which learning takes place.  I was delighted when they began naming principles of participatory process and conversational leadership, which are just fancy terms for what we already know about how to collaborate.  Twelve year olds CAN make a contribution, and can learn and reflect on process as they share their own experience about what works.


  1. It is really amazing and surprising what children can produce.
    They have in many fields far more information than us.
    And a empty mind to receive good ideas
    Congratulations to Aine

    Peace for all


  2. Chris, thanks so much for giving our kids the space to have this conversation! (and a conversation about conversation) I’m looking forward to those videos!

  3. Nice work Bowen Island!

    Gosh … with the Canadian government’s spin on climate action, this just shows how out of touch the policy makers are with community.

    I happened to mention the contribution that youth can make to climate adaptation dialogue at a government roundtable and was staggered by the responses of some … ‘Yes, But … they don’t know enough’ … ‘Yes, But … kids can’t see the big picture yet.’

    On that last point I as left wondering ‘who’ it is that has lost sight of the big picture.


  4. One thing that was clear from today is that our kids know when people are really trying and they know when they are grandstanding. Several times kids gave examples of what politicians look like when they are not authentically working together. And they know what genuined engagement looks like. And I think that even if they can’t make heads or tails of the deep science (and who among us really can, I mean really…?) they sure as hell know when to trust someone and when to be sceptical.

  5. Sounds like these kids understand more about the issues than some of our “esteemed” leaders. Great work.

    I sent this on to my partner who is currently over there observing. Here’s his comment: “You can say they do one of those things here – the buses are free. Otherwise, all a bit depressing.”

    Keep up the good work, Chris.

  6. Chris — this was a powerful circle and added to the energy of the Learning Village meeting in Copenhagen — thanks to ALL of you! For myself, I became very aware during my time there about the difference between “broadcast” and conversation (and which one I preferred!).

    I spent 5 days in the Meshwork with Peter Merry & the team, and some of the time on the topic table labeled “Values & Lifestyle”. No matter how hard I tried, it seemed that no one really wanted to grapple with values and behaviours, even though I asked questions that pointed directly there. I’m reminded of Daniel Quinn’s book “Ishmael” where he says that “the rules” of any society are like an obelisk in the marketplace — totally obvious, yet invisible because they become part of the background.

    The most interesting conversations I had were with groups of students — one group 15/16 the others around 18. I loved the 18 year olds, who were honest in their failure to do much, even though they knew they should because they found it hard going when no one else was doing much and the problem didn’t seem to be on their doorstep. The 15/16 year olds were bursting with energy and projects for their school and they had some good ideas! I so hope their head master will listen and encourage them, Being able to make something happen at that age, can set you up for life!

    Perhaps millions of people were disappointed with what happened in Copenhagen, but I felt hopeful, because I saw people around me meeting in interesting ways that never would have happened if they had not all been called there — and the focus made the issue spring to the foreground. As one person said to me “it’s not about the internet, it’s about the innernet!”.

    For me, climate change is simply a symptom of a greater question, which is all about how we decide to be related — to the earth, to each other, to our responsibility for our actions. We could decide that we have become so separated that nothing will work, or we could decide that separation is an illusion and proceed in a dramatically different direction. It all depends on how we decide to view it.

    Thank you for your work in the world and summer greetings from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

  7. Thanks for this comment Mary Alice…I’ll forward it to the student who were involved in our project.