From "The Big One: Teaching About Climate Change." Rethinking Schools magazine, summer 2009. Used by permission.
Cut the roles into separate strips of paper. Read the introduction to the group before beginning the role play.
Environmental Justice Tea Party Introduction
Have any of you been inside a greenhouse (or glasshouse)? Greenhouses are helpful for growing plants and food because they trap heat inside which helps plants and food grow since they're not vulnerable to cold temperatures outside. Our planet is like a greenhouse—a fragile and beautiful greenhouse. Can you imagine what would happen if people used their gas-powered lawn mowers or chainsaws inside the greenhouse? The air would eventually become so polluted that it would be impossible for the plants and food to survive. Climate change (or global warming) is the term given to a similar process that's happening right now in the greenhouse known as Earth. Burning fuels like coal, gas and oil is heating up our greenhouse yet it's not just that we're trapping these gases in our atmosphere. We're also preventing our planet from breathing. Forests are the equivalent of "lungs" for our greenhouse in that they help our planet filter toxins and breathe. But forests are being cut down to clear land for profitable crops like soybeans and cattle. This tea party will introduce us to people around the world who are being affected by climate change. Their imaginative responses (or lack thereof)—and our imaginative responses as Justicemakers—will play an important role in creating justice as climate change unfolds in our greenhouse known as Earth.
Environmental Justice Tea Party Roles
1. L. Gibson
Kayford Mountain, West Virginia
They say that to move away from oil we need to rely more on "clean coal," mined here in the USA. Clean coal is a lie. They blast mountains apart to get at the coal and dump everything they don't want in the valleys and streams, poisoning everything around. They want you to focus on the fact that burning coal today produces less sulfur dioxide than it used to. That's the stuff that causes smog and acid rain. But burning coal still releases about twice as much carbon dioxide as oil—for the same amount of energy. And carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the gases that cause global warming. I've been fighting mountaintop removal of coal for over 22 years. I'm not gonna sit around and watch my home and the planet be destroyed.
2. Koleo Talake
Prime Minister, Tuvalu
Most people have never heard of my little island that is 400 miles from Fiji in the South Pacific. My people live on fish and fruit; everyone knows their neighbors and people don't even lock their doors. Rising sea levels, caused by global warming threaten the very existence of my land and people. The former Prime Minister of Australia said that if Tuvalu disappears, then people there should be relocated elsewhere. What incredible selfishness. How can anyone say that people in Tuvalu should suffer so that people in the so-called developed world can continue to fill our atmosphere with carbon dioxide by driving their SUVs and buying stuff made half-way around the world? Many people believe that if current trends continue, there will be no more Tuvalu in less than twenty years. That is why I have been speaking out.
3. Ana Silvia Jim鮥z
Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico
In November of 2007, after a week of rains, terrible flooding hit the state of Tabasco, Mexico, where I live. My neighbors and I helped to put bags of sand to stop the water near to the river, but it didn't work, everything was covered with water. In the countryside, the water destroyed all the crops—the corn, sugar, cocoa and bananas. Cattle all throughout the state drowned. What will the farmers do to survive?
They say that over 80 percent of the state was flooded. A half a million people lost their homes. It's a tragedy. Most of my friends and family lost everything. They spent 20 years working, and they lost everything in 20 minutes.
When the flood hit, we had no water to drink; many people got sick.
Why did this happen? The government has allowed the rich to destroy my state. The state's land has sunk because of a century of constant extraction of oil and gas. Logging companies have deforested the state, which has led to erosion, and silt has filled rivers reducing their capacity to hold water and making floods worse.
And some people say that the climate is changing and leading to worse storms. I don't know, but I do know that the people here who suffer the most are the poor.
4. Roman Abramovich
Sibneft Oil Co., Russia
It's simple: As temperatures rise every year, ice will melt and huge new areas will be open for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. Researchers tell us that one quarter of the earth's untapped fossil fuels, including 375 billion barrels of oil, lie beneath the Arctic. Already our competitors in Norway, Statoil, are working on project Snow White, which will generate an estimated 70 billion dollars in liquefied natural gas over the next 30 years. I'm not going to sit back and let the Norwegians or anyone else beat me out of this new business opportunity. I'm sure that global warming is a bad thing for a lot of people, but I'll leave this to the politicians and scientists. I'm a good businessman—a good oil businessman—so it's time to get to work.
5. Stephanie Tumore, Greenpeace climate campaigner
To me, it seems that climate change is the most dangerous problem facing humanity. I've been working to save the Arctic. People think of the Arctic as just one big empty block of ice and snow. But it's an amazing, unbelievable place. There are polar bears, musk oxen, and caribou; and in the summer, snowy owls, ducks, and swans migrate there to nest. But already Alaska's North Slope is taken over by 28 oil production plants, almost 5,000 wells, and 1,800 miles of pipes. We've taken direct action and have confronted the oil drillers in places like the Beaufort Sea where we towed a fiberglass dome with two Greenpeace activists inside into a BP Northstar oil-drilling construction area. Two other activists unfurled a banner: "Stop BP's Northstar, Save the Climate." Direct action. That's what it will take to stop these oil-drilling criminals.
6. Douglas Steenland
President and Chief Executive Officer
Northwest Airlines Corporation
I've been reading that air travel is bad for global warming. They say our jets produce a huge amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that increase global warming. An article I read recently said that, "Flying is one of the most destructive things we can do." This researcher concluded that "the only ethical option ... is greatly to reduce the number of flights we take." But ethics cuts two ways: Don't I have an ethical responsibility to my employees and stockholders? And that means expanding air travel, advertising low fares, and trying to get people to take vacations to far-away places like Japan and China, to keep Northwest profitable. Sure, we will try to pollute less, but we'll leave global warming to the politicians and scientists to figure out. I'm just a businessman.
7. Steve Tritch
President and Chief Executive Officer
Before I became CEO of Westinghouse I was senior vice president for Nuclear Fuel, providing nuclear fuel products and services to nuclear power plants throughout the world. Before that, I led the merging of the former ABB nuclear businesses into Westinghouse Electric, and was senior vice president of Nuclear Services. And before that, in 1991 I became manager of the Nuclear Safety Department and in 1992 was appointed general manager of Westinghouse's Engineering Technology. Today, I belong to the American Nuclear Society and serve on the Nuclear Energy Institute's Board of Directors. I guess you could call me Mr. Nuke.
You might say that I'm a man on the hot seat these days. Not only are we running out of easy-to-find oil, but oil is blamed for global warming. Coal is an abundant source of power, but it produces even larger amounts of greenhouse gases than oil. Because I'm head-man at Westinghouse Electric, people are looking to my company for solutions. The solution is obvious: nuclear power. As I tell my employees, "What's good for the planet is good for Westinghouse."
Global warming could destroy much of life on earth. But nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases. They say nuclear power has dangers. Well, last year 5,200 Chinese coal miners died in accidents—and that's a lot more than have ever been hurt in a nuclear power accident. I see hope for the planet and Westinghouse is here to play our part.
8. Wangari Maathai, Green Belt Movement
Already, some places in Africa are seeing temperatures rising twice as fast as world averages. Unpredictable rains and floods, prolonged drought, crop failures, and fertile lands turned into deserts have already begun to change the face of Africa. What makes this so outrageous is that our output of greenhouse gases is tiny when compared to the industrialized world's output. For my part, I've been working in the Green Belt Movement for the last 30 years, since I was a young woman. We have mobilized millions of individual citizens in every country to plant trees, prevent soil loss, harvest rain water and practice less destructive forms of agriculture. We must protect the trees from the logging that is turning our continent into a desert. Our goal is to plant a billion trees.
9. M. Enomenga
Huaorani Indian, Eastern Ecuador
For years, the oil companies have invaded my people's lands and the lands of neighboring peoples—the Shuar, the Cofan, the Sequoya—in the rainforests of eastern Ecuador. With oil comes destruction. And now we learn that not only is oil development destroying our rainforest, it is destroying the world, through carbon dioxide pollution that leads to global warming. We say, "Leave the oil in the ground." Why do rich countries come here? People from the richest and most populated countries come to the poorest to take its resources, to take and negotiate, to live their life better and leave us even poorer. So we as Huaorani, we ask those city people: Why do you want oil? We don't want oil.
10. Nancy Tamura
Hood River Valley, Oregon
Every generation of our family has farmed this land. A study by Oregon State University found that 75 percent of the water during the summer months in the Upper Middle Fork of the Hood River comes from melting glaciers on Mt. Hood. And because of global warming, the glaciers are disappearing. That's our river. Well, we don't own it, but it's the river that irrigates our pears and cherries. Our family has grown fruit on this land since before we were born, and now they tell us that our irrigation water may be disappearing? The problem is that the scientists say that the glaciers have been shrinking because of global warming. I'd always thought that global warming might affect the Arctic and the polar bears, but not the Upper Middle Fork of the Hood River.
11. Robert Lovelace
Ardoch Algonquin Indian leader, Ontario, Canada
In mid-February 2008, I was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay a 15,000 dollar fine. What was my "crime"? Trespassing on my own land—trying to block a uranium company from mining and polluting Algonquin Indian land. It began when we noticed people cutting down trees on land that we had never ceded to the Canadian government. Algonquin Indians and our non-Indian supporters organized a 101 day blockade. Because of global warming, the nuclear power industry is claiming that they are the "clean" alternative. But nuclear power requires uranium and there's nothing good about uranium mining. Mining companies clearcut the land and destroy the earth to get at the uranium. And nuclear power itself is not clean. Nuclear waste stays radioactive for thousands of years and no one has found a safe way to store nuclear poisons that long.