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Harnessing the Power of Mass Media

Videos Help Educate the Public About Climate Change

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Young filmmakers get an opportunity to hone their skills in a professional media studio.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

When the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” premiered in 2006, it became an overnight success, reaping critical acclaim and winning two Academy Awards as well as generating more than $50 million in box-office revenues worldwide. 

The 94-minute movie, written and presented by former Vice President Al Gore, educates the public about the threat and consequences of global warming. More importantly, it has been credited with raising not only international awareness about climate change but also influencing public and political opinion about global warming and reinvigorating the environmental movement.

To capitalize on the power of visual media in boosting learning among middle- and high-school students, UMass Lowell faculty and students, in collaboration with the Cambridge Educational Access TV Media Arts Studio, the Cambridge-based education/research non-profit organization TERC and the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College, have created a program that blends media-making and climate-change science.

Called Youth Educating the Public (YEP), the program is part of a NASA-funded education project — Climate Change Education: Science, Solutions and Education in an Age of Media — that empowers young students to communicate complex scientific concepts to the general public and help viewers retain that knowledge.

“The students, scientists and educators involved in YEP focused on many aspects of climate change,” says environmental biology Assoc. Prof. Juliette Rooney-Varga, director of UMass Lowell’s Climate Change Initiative. “They then use their knowledge to create media for a general audience.” 

This year’s program culminated with a screening of the students’ projects on Aug. 1 at the Media Arts Studio in Cambridge. About 65 people attended the event, which featured media produced during a five-week summer workshop on climate science and media-making. Pieces included short films, field reports, studio interviews, music videos and animation.

“We’re very proud of the hard work these young people have been doing,” says Rooney-Varga.

In addition to NASA, funding for YEP was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Project.

“It was a very rewarding work experience,” says UMass Lowell student William Sidelinger. “Climate change is such an important issue, one that is often very dark and bleak, and seeing the energy and enthusiasm of the youth was very encouraging.”

This year’s media instructors Angelica Allende Brisk and Rachel D’Erminio of Media Arts Studio worked with UMass Lowell students Sidelinger, Patrick Lynch, Nathaniel Manala, Tobe Stomberg and Ana Caldeira, who participated as summer interns.

Sidelinger adds: “Since this is the beginning of the generation that will deal with the most severe effects of climate change, the level of hope they displayed is surprising to say the least. They don’t think of what disasters might come, but what they must do to avoid them. It’s a state of mind that’s dearly needed in this ongoing battle. Also, the resolve they show will be critical in the future fight against climate change. As they educate others through programs like these, they will be creating a movement that has the potential to shift the course of humanity.”

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