NEW ORLEANS — Just days ahead of the United Nations climate change conference in Qatar, nine International High School students traveled to the capital, Doha, to hold their own mock conference with other students from across the globe.
The students spent seven weeks preparing for the nine-day trip to the West Asian country that included visits to local schools, speeches by top climate change experts, a camel ride in the desert, a cruise in the Persian Gulf and their own mock conference during which they proposed their own resolutions to address some of humanity’s most-pressing concerns.
Laurie Hitt, trip chaperone and the International School’s professional college counselor, said that the leaders who spoke to the students did not paint a rosy picture, saying there would not be peace as long as resources dwindle and populations grow.
Representatives from Qatar, a country that itself has the highest per capita oil and natural gas reserves and has the highest per capita carbon footprint, did not shrink from their own role in pollution and reliance on non-renewable energy sources, said chaperone and environmental sciences teacher Jeramie Foret.
While studying the Kyoto Protocol before the trip, students discussed the decision of the United States not to participate, and Japan’s recent decision to pull out following the devastation of some of the country’s nuclear power and resulting increased reliance on fossil fuels.
For the mock conference, students were divided into three committees, each charged with devising a plan to address climate change-related issues. The first committee focused on reducing the carbon footprint. The students focused on youth consumerism and getting kids to spend their own money or influence their parents spending toward eco-friendly products.
The second committee looked at education and created a plan to visit schools and give presentations defining the concepts of carbon footprint and climate change.
The third committee focused on the relationship between climate change, natural disasters and providing international relief. That group created a plan to keep people better informed and create a “necessity box” with three days worth of supplies.
The proposals that passed were presented to the actual delegates at this week’s global meeting, Foret said. “It’s an honor for this age group to have a voice at the conference,” he said.
Through their interaction with Qatari students, many of the students from New Orleans were surprised to learn how much they had in common with each other. Dani Edwards said that because of the trip, her career focus has changed to a job in international relations. “People are not that different from us,” she said. “We share connections, and I want to build on those strong connections to the U.S.”
Rachel Otis said from music to the topics of conversation, “there are so many similarities I didn’t think existed.”
Oscar Garcia said that his career goals were also influenced by the experience, and he now wants to work internationally. Many of his misconceptions about the Arab culture were changed, he said. “They laugh like us, they live like us — they are really wonderful people.”
At the end of the trip, Garcia said his new Qatari friend presented him with traditional clothing, and he felt they had bonded as brothers.
The students learned about many practices foreign to Americans from capital punishment for women who engage in premarital sex to not using the left hand. They were also segregated by gender in many activities. But for the students, it was still the sameness that left a stronger impression.
Bianchi Hughes said that she wanted to bring back a “week of awareness,” to the school, during which students would plant trees and take other steps to reduce their carbon footprint.
For Aaron Barren, the most powerful takeaway was “the emphasis on now,” he said. “If we don’t do something now — we will be past the point of no return.”