Positively Impact Your World Through Combating Climate Change

by isvolunteers on Monday, 21 December 2015

There’s no denying it. We are living in a changing climate and this is having a profound impact on all species on the planet. International Student Volunteers is committed to doing our part to combat climate change, both directly through our projects and educating our volunteers.

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‘To change everything it takes everyone.” Be part of the solution. (c) Grist.org

Changing weather patterns are already impacting our world. With more frequent and extreme weather events (such as extended fire seasons, unreliable wet seasons and intense tropical cyclones) 2015 is shaping up to be the hottest and most impacted year on record. Plants are flowering earlier, hibernating animals are sleeping less and coral reefs are becoming more acidic and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that there is a lot more change on the horizon.

Education is a central element of the ISV experience and one of the topics we cover on all our programs is climate change. ISV Project Leaders facilitate site-specific activities, interactive walks and lead conversations with our project partners about local and national climate change challenges, and how it’s impacting the environments where our volunteers work. Here are some real examples from our programs this season…

Elephants At Risk

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An ISV volunteer caring for an elephant on project in Thailand. (c) ISV

On our elephant project at Salak Pra Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand, ISV volunteers learnt about the impact of climate change on local wildlife through their head ranger, who shared powerful stories from the park:

“Normally, by this time of year we would have been in the rainy season for one month, but the rain still hasn’t come. This is causing a drought and it’s harder for animals and plants to find water. Many species of plants are becoming endangered and animals have to travel further to get the food and water they need to survive.”

This can sometimes lead to conflict between animals and humans. He told the volunteers a story about an elephant named Yim.

“Yim wandered into a farm looking for water. A farmer, worried about the damage an elephant could cause to his crops, shot Yim in the face. The gunshot blinded Yim’s eye and caused injuries to his head and trunk. Yim came to the ranger station seemingly asking for help. The rangers were able to treat his wounds and help him recover.”

Yim is one of the many elephants that ISV volunteers help to care for in this sanctuary that provides safety for the sick, elderly, disabled and abused through general maintenance, preparing food and washing.

Penguin Problems

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ISV volunteers at Penguin Place in New Zealand, where our teams constructed trails, removed weeds, planted new native species and built penguin boxes. (c) ISV

Rising sea levels and increasingly intense storms are impacting the globe. In New Zealand, the resulting coastal erosion is threatening penguin colonies who nest in sand dunes. Consequently, they’re moving their burrows further inland and closer to human housing – in some instances, underneath buildings. ISV volunteers are helping to improve penguin habitats to encourage these feathered friends to stay in the dunes. They do this by removing invasive weeds, planting native species and building penguin nesting boxes.

Challenging coastal environments

In South Africa, our project partners are already feeling the effects of a warmer climate. In Chintsa in the Eastern Cape, ISV volunteers learn about the importance of the dune and coastal systems when they walk along the beachfront taking part in a scavenger hunt, searching for significant species in the lagoon systems, rock pools and beach.

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An ISV volunteer collecting marine debris to make the coastline safer for marine wildlife. (c) ISV.

The host organisation Volunteer Africa 32˚ South highlights how inter-related these ecosystems, species and healthy biomes are, and the devastating effect it would have to the environment if sea levels continue to rise. Volunteers also learn about the social impacts on the nearby village and how climate change has the potential to destroy many homes, affect food security and the livelihood of the village.

Volunteers Negotiating The 2015 Climate Summit

In Australia, one Project Leader took a creative approach to help students understand climate change globally. The leader asked participants to perform as different world leaders in a dramatization of the Paris COP21 conference. Working in pairs, volunteers were assigned a country and reviewed their current climate change situation (including emissions and current and expected climate change impacts) and then presented their arguments to a mock global assembly. Many countries argued that global warming needed to be limited to an increase of 3.6 °F (2°C). However The Maldives, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, argued for even less. (The Maldives is the lowest lying country on earth and faces serious threats from rising sea levels and acidifying coral reefs.)

This activity allowed volunteers from diverse academic backgrounds to have a conversation about the realities of climate change. They learnt how each country, no matter how big or small, will face serious challenges if we cannot create global, national and local solutions.

Youth climate photo

Youth marching for change in New York. (c) Shadia Fayne Wood

While global warming is distressing, it’s not all doom and gloom! ISV’s Project Leaders ensure that volunteers leave discussions feeling optimistic about the potential for change and the positive impact they’ve made– such as planting native tree species that over their lifetime will store carbon and prevent erosion, assisting in improving habitats for at-risk animals. Even simple and small changes, like walking to work each morning, using recycled paper/card/egg boxes to make firebricks to cook on, and hand washing clothes and leaving them to dry in the sun, make a difference.

You can positively impact your world by keeping up to date and aware of global issues, and taking action (like ISV’s staff did as part of the Climate Change Marches earlier this month) and also how you choose to vote. Remember, this is our future and there’s only one planet.

To learn more about ISV and our responsible travel principles visit our website at www.isvolunteers.org.

What else can you do? Check out suggestions from David Suzuki or the United States Environment Protection Authority and take some climate smart steps today!

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