Robert College SDG 13 Climate Action Challenge

Author: İpek İnci Özyiğit

Editor: Barış Yazıcı

Robert College Social Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity Office launched its first online event, SDG 13 Challenge Insight Day, on October 24th. Robert College (RC) faculty, students, and staff got together to gain insight into and develop a trans-disciplinary understanding of the climate crisis by listening to experts working on different aspects of the issue. The event was an introduction to a much bigger organization: SDG 13 Challenge — an 8-month Design Thinking program for Robert College students, faculty and staff who want to develop projects on SDG 13: Climate Action.

WHY ARE WE HERE TODAY?

Our event started with a short talk by Mr. Adam Oliver, Head of School at Robert College. He invited us to ponder about a terrifying question throughout the event: Why are we here today?

“Because we are the future of life!”

Wildfires in Colorado, Australia, California, Turkey and many more show that our world is burning, and that is the reason why we had gathered for an “Insight Day”. As an educator, Mr. Oliver feels responsible to ask, “What else should an education be about, if not about the wildfires, droughts, sea’s heating and many other climate issues?” To conclude, he emphasized that we can ‘make a difference’ with our small actions because ‘we are the future of life’.

ONE PIECE OF A BIGGER ECOSYSTEM

Ms. Aybike Oğuz, Head of Social Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity Office, at Robert College presented us UN Sustainable Development Goals and pointed out the urgency. SDGs are a collection of 17 interconnected goals which are designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. RC will work on SDG 13 this year because the climate crisis is the most urgent one of those goals. In Ms. Oğuz’s words, we will be working on “one piece of a bigger ecosystem”.

I AM A HUMMINGBIRD

Selin Gören, an RC’20 alumna currently studying at Yale University, was next to talk about climate activism. She has been a part of the Fridays for Future Movement in Turkey since 2018.

“We don’t need to do the same thing but all of us need to do something.”

Selin believes that every little action matters to decrease the effects of the climate crisis. She remarks that all the community including artists, economists, and politicians should work together to create a systematic change. Her motto is, “We don’t need to do the same thing but all of us need to do something.”

Starting her journey of climate action, Selin chose to be a hummingbird. When there is a fire, a hummingbird carries a drop of water to put it out. When all hummingbirds do the same, they manage to put out the fire. Selin invited each of us to be a hummingbird in our own communities in order to stop the climate crisis!

EMPOWER, CREATE, SHARE

Co-Heads of Environmental Education at Robert College, Ms. Dünya Önen and Mr. Stephen Holz, were next. They presented their vision of Environmental Education at RC.

“There is not only one solution to stop this crisis; the key is collective responsibility and effort from each of us.”

Ms. Önen is concerned about the long-term effects of the climate crisis on biodiversity, and thus she is eager to work for a systematic change in the world. According to her research on developing a new generation of biofuel from microalgae, replacing a fossil fuel with a renewable energy source such as biofuel, can reduce CO₂ emissions up to 80%. She emphasized that “There is not only one solution to stop this crisis; the key is collective responsibility and effort from each of us.”

Then, Mr. Holz presented 3 key long term goals of the environmental movement in RC.

  • Empower: equipping everyone with the adequate knowledge to positively impact the planet.
  • Create: making sure that RC campus is using zero waste, zero energy and that it is an ecologically sustainable place.
  • Share: creating a message to share with the RC community, our country and region.

BEEKEEPING

Our next speakers, Mr. Stuart Arey, Physics and Chemistry teacher & Head of Science Department, and Ms. Maria Sezer, artist and art educator at RC, talked about beekeeping. Last summer, they came up with a “Bee Initiative” to start raising honey bees at Robert College. This initiative is also a promising project for SDG 13 Challenge Teams.

Nurturing an interest in biology, monitoring and tracking the environment, creating awareness, taking the opportunity of being in a unique environment, and encouraging social entrepreneurship in our school are some of the reasons why Ms. Sezer and Mr. Arey started this initiative. They are currently working on organizing a “honey label design” competition.

WORK IS ON THE YOUTH

Prof. Dr. Levent Kurnaz, the leader of the Sustainable Cities SDG for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions network in Turkey, gave a crash course on sustainable development and the climate crisis:

  • Earth’s climate has significantly warmed since the late 1800 because of human activities, and if we continue to pollute our planet, the earth will warm unprecedentedly more!
  • Every country approaches the climate crisis according to how they’re being affected. Some try to stop the problem whereas some adapt themselves to the altering environment.

According to UN Sustainable Development Goals, strengthening resilience to climate related hazards should be the first target. Levent Hoca says that this isn’t about “stopping the climate crisis” , but rather “planning for a bad future”. Some other targets are integrating climate change measures into national policies and improving education and awareness.

However, most people believe that major governments have already given up on the hope that we can stop this issue. Acknowledging that fact, Levent Hoca has a clear message for all of us:

“The work is on the youth! We must push elders to work on stopping the climate crisis unless we want to have a disastrous future.”

WHERE DOES MY FOOD COME FROM?

We deep dived into the issue of food and the ecological crisis by watching a TED Talk by Dr. Vandana Shiva. In her talk, she points out the agricultural issues in India: More than half of Indians don’t eat enough food; 200000 farmers committed suicide between 1997–2007; millions of children died because of malnutrition.

Still, there is common belief that “environmentalism” is hampering the growth of the country. As a response, Dr. Vandana Shiva reminds that the premise of every economic activity is the rivers, land, forest and biodiversity.

“We can make a massive change every time we eat.”

India is a rich country in terms of food, but it is poisoning the soil with synthetic fertilizers and deceiving citizens with fake daals. Dr. Shiva believes that changing this system depends on citizen action, and that we can all make a massive change every time we eat.

WATER

Gemma Bulos, a world renowned social entrepreneur, the founder of Global Women’s Water Initiative, and the director of Claremont McKenna College Krevis KLab for Social Impact joined us to talk about the water & climate crisis.

“Although Josephine was undereducated, she knew more about the climate crisis than most of the educated people.”

Ms. Bulos introduced us to Josephine — a community organizer as well as a farmer. Similar to what every 1 out of 8 African girls do, she had to drop school when she hit puberty because of lack of sanitation and poor water hygiene at her school. Ms. Bulos believes that, although Josephine is undereducated, she knows more about the climate crisis than the educated people. Being a farmer and being responsible for household chores made her realize the water-related problems in her region.

In order to initiate a solution to this issue, Ms. Bulos started a movement called “Global Women’s Water Initiative”, which is training women to produce reusable menstrual pads, soaps, shampoos and solar ovens. During the training, women also learn sanitizing water in order to decrease water-related diseases in the community and to have access to clean water.

ACT LIKE THE AMAZON

Next, we were very excited to host Dr. Uygar Özesmi, the founder of Good4Trust, Executive Director of Change.org Turkey and the Ex-executive Director of TEMA Foundation.

Dr. Özesmi stated that “between 1970–2016, all vertebrate populations had declined by 68%”, and added, “we shouldn’t be surprised to face a climate crisis because we literally ‘eliminated nature’”. The climate crisis didn’t happen all of a sudden, it is the result of human misuse of the planet through an incorrectly organized economy. A sustainable economy, which has harmony between humanity and nature, can be achieved by putting three ideas into practice:

Transition Towns: Establishing self-sufficient communities that eliminate negative human footprint through a regenerative prosumer economy, preventing the climate and biodiversity crises.

Sustainable Investments: Putting money into business models that do not maximize profits, but impact that reduces externalities to nature and society.

Prosumer Movements: Taking on a prosumer mentality, rather than the individualist conscious consumer. Organize, not only to buy organic, or use renewable energy sources, but to shape and reform the economy.

As a promising economic model called prosumer economy, “ Good4Trust.org ” is a community where people become “prosumers” by producing and buying ecologically and socially just products and services in a circular way. To create a sustainable society, our economy needs to become like the Amazon Forest. Every economic agent should be like a living being that does not produce waste, but food for another being. The Amazon Forest for millions of years did not harm the planet, but benefited and is still extremely productive. So can we!

SUSTAINABLE FASHION

Ms. Serra Türkün, Sustainability Lead & Creative Manager at Reflect Studio, noted that, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the total greenhouse gas emission from textile production is 1.2 billions tons annually. To decrease this amount, sustainable accessories and clothes are manufactured at Reflect.

Unlike Reflect, most fast fashion brands produce polyester and lycra based clothes, which are fossil fuel based. Even worse, they continuously release new products which cause enormous textile waste. Ms. Türkün urges those brands to reduce their footprints by localizing their production and by using eco-friendly materials. She also has some tips for individuals to gain sustainable dressing habits:

  • Read the labels of your clothes. Make sure that you know its effects on the environment.
  • Give your clothes a second life. Donate them or share them with a friend.
  • Do not use dryers. Try to dry your clothes naturally.

INNOVATION AND CLIMATE ACTION

Our last speaker Mr. Mustafa Özer, director at İmece shared İmeceLab insights into climate action and youth movements. He stated that İmece Lab opened space for high school and university students to develop projects on the theme of ‘urban mobility’.

“Innovation comes from everywhere, and especially from the youth.”

Mr. Özer said that issues and solutions are interconnected. If people work together and try to truly understand the source of the problems, they can reach a solution. Mr. Özer believes that “innovation comes from everywhere, especially from the youth!”

In “SDG 13 Challenge Insight Day”, we invited our participants to answer some questions and share their ideas. You may see some of their responses below.

What did you learn about the climate crisis?

  • All of the sustainable development goals are interconnected.
  • There isn’t a single way to deal with the crisis.
  • I don’t need to do a big thing, any small action can be helpful.
  • Climate crisis is related to many other aspects of our lives and we should take action.

What is one action you can take?

  • I can change my non-eco-friendly habits at home and share my knowledge with the people around me.
  • I can encourage my students to take action to think systematically about the problem.
  • I can consume as little as possible because everything we buy depends on natural sources.
  • We can develop a community involvement project in which youth from different schools can join, and we can raise our awareness by arranging trips to examine different species and their populations.

What question emerges to you about the climate crisis?

  • Am I really taking action?
  • How can I be a part of this change, which clubs or communities can I join?
  • Why do we hurt the world?
  • Are there enough hummingbirds to put out the fire individually, or do we need more systematic change?

We asked our speakers and participants to share resources in chat during the event. You can see the list of resources shared below.

  • Period End of Sentence: A documentary that follows a group of women in rural Hapur district as they transition from crippling shame at their own menstrual cycles to creating the beginnings of a microeconomy based on a low-cost sanitary napkin machine.
  • My Octopus Teacher: A diver swims with an octopus that lives in a kelp forest off the coast of South Africa.
  • Brave Blue World: A documentary that paints an optimistic picture of how humanity is adopting new technologies and innovations to rethink how water is managed.
  • David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet: A 2020 British documentary film narrated by David Attenborough. The film acts as a “witness statement”, through which Attenborough shares his concerns for the current state of the planet due to humanity’s impact on nature and his hopes for the future.
  • Do I Really Need That? by Tim Koehn: A song which draws attention to excessive consumerism and unnecessary clothing habits.

Ms. Aybike Oğuz ended the event by inviting RC faculty, students, and staff to form teams and participate in SDG 13 Challenge to develop a project to take action for a sustainable world.

What projects about the climate crisis do you carry out in your community?

Please share your comments, insights, and questions with us. We are very excited to hear your ideas & experiences.

Written by

Robert College Social Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Creativity Office

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store