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What young people have done for climate change advocacy and awareness is immeasurable.

If we did not have the likes of Greta Thunberg or Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, most people would not have the same level of knowledge on climate change and global warming as we do, today. Whether it is the emotive manner in which they lead their campaigns or their brazen actions to place themselves in the face of culprit industries and organisations, these young activists certainly gain mass attention. In fact, more than the average politician reports back on their country’s progress in reducing their carbon reliance. This is old news by now.

Given the impact of these young activists, we as a society should be enabling and empowering them to recruit more young activists, to continue the youth climate movement that seems to be grabbing everyone’s attention. One way in which we can do this is to mobilise the support of science centres and museums to support their campaigns.

So, how could science centres and museums do this? 

The first thing museums and science centres can do is to facilitate knowledge dissemination. Climate science can be complex. A small increase in temperature does not sound like a major deal, however, it has dire consequences. Through tech displays, modelling, virtual reality, simulations, and an array of imagery – science centres are equipped to deliver memorable educational experiences.

Attending to the climate crisis will require more than public demonstrations and protests, it will require a transformation in public culture and education. Science centres and museums have the potential to act as a catalysing central point where vital information is consumed by the public in a way that encourages action. Whether this action is to make small changes within your home or to join a local climate project. Both are a step in the right direction.  

 Museums and science centres can act as a safe space for climate change advocacy. It is easy to admire the courageous efforts of these young activists, like Greta, who lead the global Youth Climate Strike and passionately share her messaging on the world stage. But what we may not realise is the criticism, personal attacks, and bullying that these activists receive. Following her 2019 speech in front of the United Nations, Greta Thunberg faced numerous hate-fuelled campaigns on social media and even television. ‘A mentally ill Swedish child’, broadcasted on live television sparked a backlash and wide criticism of Greta and her actions. In the face of all of this, she still continues her climate activism mission today.  

We cannot expect all young climate activists to follow in Greta’s footsteps. We need to offer these activists safe spaces for people to listen to what they have to share and say. While not every museum or science centre will support young people missing school or university to strike, inviting these passionate activists into a space where they can share presentations, documentaries, and talks to an audience – will not only support their climate strike action, it will also enhance the museums offering to the public.  

When it comes to a climate strike, especially one that reaches a global scale like Greta’s FridayForFuture, it is easy to get drawn into a single message around climate change. Which is simply that we need to reduce our carbon footprint to keep global temperatures at bay. While this message is important, there is more to climate change and climate science that the public should know. For example, what would the implications on our oceans, terrestrial ecosystems, and cities be if there was a 1.5-degree rise in temperature? How would this impact our food and agricultural systems? What does climate change adaptation mean and contextually look like? 

What is climate resilience?

While young activists take on the politicians of the world, we also need institutions dedicated to backing their campaigns by educating the public with more knowledge about the topic itself.

Luckily, there is a developing level of awareness on the topic and we are starting to see the urgent need to transition to cleaner, more renewable forms of energy. However, the momentum of this shift needs to be maintained, and both youth activists and institutions like science centres and museums can play a big role in ensuring this.

The climate movement, energy transition, and sustainable development are all at a critical point in history. With energy supply issues in Europe and South Africa, severe pollution in parts of Asia, pandemics, droughts, and food shortages, we are starting to see an acceleration in initiatives that address these environmental and population issues.

With World Wars breaking out, the rise of technology, and Covid-19, this transition to a more sustainable future will be documented as a key moment in history, and the people recognized as the drivers will not only be the politicians, but also the young change-makers that had the courage to stand up to confront the world.  

In however many years’ time, we hope that science centres and museum visitors (that used their hydrogen-powered vehicles to get to the facility) get to experience the experiences and installations created today and learn about the role the youth played in the climate change movement that foregrounded a society in which these sustainably inclined conditions are now a norm and reality.