How to Save the World, Part 1

Against a backdrop of wildfires, floods and drought, there is cause for optimism. Drexel Dragons from all walks of life are responding to perils the planet faces with creativity, collaboration and even a degree of confidence. From their respective disciplines, they’re converting industrial food waste into plastic, building electric vehicle batteries with domestic materials and helping vulnerable citizens adapt to extreme weather, to name a few. Each project is exciting in its potential and gives us hope for the future, because the No. 1 way to save the world is simply to start somewhere.

Here is an excerpt from the Summer 2022 edition of Drexel Magazine that features the Academy’s Senior Scientist and Wetland Section Leader Elizabeth Watson, PhD, with one of 13 ideas for coping with a changing planet.

Cut Through Climate Apathy

A new class at Drexel is tackling the very real dilemma of climate apathy head-on by asking students to consider how different approaches to film and video influence viewers — and to put theory to practice in a public film festival of their own.

The class, “Climate Films & Advocacy,” was co-taught last fall for the first time by Ben Kalina, an assistant professor of film and television in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, and Elizabeth Watson, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and senior scientist at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

“The goal was to give students a sense of agency in figuring out how to address climate change through communication,” says Kalina, who is also an award-winning documentary producer and director.

Kalina and Watson structured the class around weekly film screenings, which culminated in panel discussions involving filmmakers, scientists, practitioners and others that delved into the topics addressed in the films. These conversations were moderated by small groups of the students themselves. Kalina says it was important to include a variety of genres and approaches among the films shown, so students could reflect on the impact of, for example, hopeful films versus darker ones, or character-driven films versus those that are more factually focused.

At the end of the term, students collaboratively organized “Cinema for the Climate,” a public film festival that ran in December 2021.

“Students signed up for different roles to organize the festival, and that really allowed different entry points in the idea that to get involved in climate justice activism, you can ask, ‘How do my talents intersect with this problem?’” Watson says. “We had people who made artwork, we had writers, people who ran the technical side — there were a lot of different ways to be involved, which I think is true for any event or organization.”

At the festival, students distributed pre-film and post-film surveys, to assess how effective the films were in shifting people’s attitudes, however slightly.

One student, Lauren Jackson, says that the class inspired her to pursue a career in environmental documentary filmmaking. The class also convinced her that the most effective way to communicate about climate change is by connecting to our universal humanity, rather than sticking to scientific facts or political ideology, she says.

“It is generally much more effective to be practical, encouraging and solution-oriented, as opposed to pessimistic or worst-case scenario oriented, which may overwhelm people and scare them away,” she says.

To read all 13  ideas for how to save the world, here is the full article.

By Katie Gilbert

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