We are the world, we are the children

“So, you are here for me to interview you about climate change, right? What’s your focus on [the issue]?” the interviewer asks Coun. Gord Perks during what seems to be your routine political discussion. But it is not.

Asking the questions this time is Sophia, nine years old. She and a group of other nine- to-12-year-old children from Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood are taking the lead of the conversation about climate change as part of the video project Climate Talks, where they discuss ideas, fears and hopes for the future of the planet with their parents and teachers, as well as Toronto artists, activists and politicians.

The eight-episode video series is among the most recents works of Toronto-based artists Nicole Bazuin, Alexandra Hong and Cheryl Hsu, the trio behind the Madeleine Collective. Commissioned by the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC), the project was released in conjunction with The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography and Video, an exhibition on display at RIC until Dec. 4.

Now, Climate Talks is not your average discussions about climate change. As Alexandra Hong points out, “the name Climate Talks kind of plays off the idea that when we have conversations about climate, it’s usually with governments or between policy makers. It’s very large-pictured and we don’t really see that happening on an individual level; how we talk about climate change and when we talk about it in our day to day life. It is as if sometimes you don’t make the connection between what we are doing and how it will impact our lives and our future.” 

The fact that kids are leading the discussions is in itself a unique feature of Climate Talks.

“When we think about climate change, it’s really hard to understand the immediate impacts,” says Hong, “but we have to bear in mind that the things we do today will affect the generations down the line and [those] who will actually be impacted are our children.” And with Climate Talks, these children are finally given a chance to speak up and make their voices heard about an issue that will affect their future in the first place.

But, as nine-year-old Sophia later asks her interviewee, “can kids actually convince adults?”

By seeing the children pose simple yet precise and informed questions to the adults they are conversing with, it seems that they can; and it is clear how much work and effort was put to inform the kids about climate change in the first place. 

As Hong explains: “We realized you can’t really ask kids to talk about a topic that they don’t have a lot of knowledge about, so we actually paired them with a climate educator,” who helped to develop a series of workshops to explain climate change to them. At the very end, they learned about who each of the kids would be interviewing and they came up with questions that they would want to ask.

“It was only through these workshops and through the right education on the issue that a project like Climate Talks was possible,” Hong concludes.

The honest, unbiased opinions and humour that the children bring is what turns a hard topic such as climate change into something more easily accessible and relatable for people of any age. It bridges an opportunity for different generations to co-operate in facing climate change and its consequences for us and the planet. 

As Jasmine, the mother of one of the kids notes in a video: “The children bring something very important to the table: hope and the belief  this can be done … [adults] need that hope and that inspiration from children […] so if you put the two together that’s a winning combination. They need each other to work together.”

That is, perhaps, the final goal of Climate Talks: to start the conversation on the issue of climate change, to bring everyone – from adults and children to politicians – together. To get them to pay attention now and in the long run. In order to do so, the Madeleine Collective has plans to expand the project to eventually make it a nationwide conversation.

“We have to get to the point where we all feel comfortable talking about an issue that we are very scared of and also don’t know how to articulate it in our everyday lives,” said Bazuin. “If we can get to that point, then we can start talking about the next steps. I wouldn’t say it’s the role of the project to promise tangible changes, though I think there will be some that are felt. Who knows, maybe a couple of years down the line we will see these kids doing a lot more for climate change, and what they’ve learnt will affect their actions and influence the policy-maker’s decisions down the road.”

Find out more about Climate Talks at their website and watch their trailer below.