Student Conversations on Climate Change: Communicating Effectively

Remembrance of Climate Futures/Arlington is a youth-led Arlington based version of Northeastern professor Tom Starr’s regional public art initiative. Over the summer, 12 interns from Arlington High School will be researching impacts of climate change on Arlington and some individual and collective actions that can be taken by the town, community groups, and individual residents to make Arlington more resilient.  The interns will be regularly blogging about some of the people they meet; Charles Coe visited on July 13 to give some advice about how to approach their writing projects. Below is their second blog post.

Meeting with writer and poet Charles Coe

by Juliette Bennett and Margo Awad

The guest speaker that met with us this past Tuesday was Charles Coe, an accomplished teacher and author of several books of poetry, who came to provide us with tips on how to communicate effectively and to write more efficiently. After some introductions around the group, he brought up the topic of climate change by starting off with two prompts for us to answer. Mr. Coe asked us to write for 3 minutes with the prompt, “What is one aspect of climate change that particularly concerns you?” He got a different answer from each of us:  rising sea levels and flooding; poor air quality that makes it tough to “find a breath of fresh air”; more violent and dangerous storms; people not being able to accept that climate change is happening and it WILL affect them; and the urgent sense that “time is running out.”

The second prompt Mr. Coe gave us was, “What’s going on right now in the field of environmental activism right now, that makes you the most hopeful?” After giving us time to write he opened it up to a discussion. Many people brought up how schools are willing to teach kids the basic ideas to reduce their own carbon footprint, like walking to school instead of using a car or composting when you’re done at lunch. Some people said that it’s inspiring that so many younger people were involved in any form of environmental activism, and how there are so many leaders in this field to look up to.

With the example of someone selling a car, Mr. Coe said that trying to get someone to buy something with details they have no interest in will never work. Another relevant example was with a politician– trying to get them to be interested in a policy will be difficult if you attempt to tug on heartstrings– that’s typically not how they work. To know your audience is to know how to make them understand whatever you wish to broadcast.

Mr. Coe did bring up the ideas of environmental activism across the world after some of us shared our own stories of our own families. Some examples of countries across the world included the struggle in India with carbon emissions, the dangers of living on the coast in Japan, and the toxic chemicals in the air in Lebanon. He then went on to work with us to review a previously written blog post– for us to understand the tone of the piece, and what messages it conveys to the audience. Through that, he told us that to communicate effectively, we have to know our audience.

Mr. Coe then concluded his presentation in a rather unexpected manner, though relevant and a unique finishing touch for our discussion– with a particularly apt poem about change, and the reluctance we have to accept it. The message of the poem was very fitting for the topics we all discussed in the meeting, and it reminded us that we need to step out of our comfort zone to experience a change.

Here, the final poem in his book, Memento Mori, titled “Every New Thing”, reads:

EVERY NEW THING

Every new thing is an act of treason,

a betrayal of the comfortable, the familiar.

An animal that has known only the cage

will cringe in a corner if the door opens suddenly

squealing on ancient, rusted hinges.

If I have but one wish for you, for me,

for us all, it’s to remember that our own cages

are locked only by the fear of change

that we have the power to shove the doors open

and take one step, then another,

into a new world.