Imagine a future schoolyard where students arrive on bikes and assemble into a solar-powered cafeteria to share a nutritious breakfast sourced from the school garden.
Imagine this scenario repeated all over the world through a shared commitment to transform schools into so-called solution hubs as one way to lessen the gap between knowledge and action when it comes to climate change.
Every environmentalist I know emphasizes the critical role of education in addressing climate change, so let’s use the climate crisis as an opportunity to imagine and develop resources that offer students hope and practical solutions to address the complex environmental issues that await them.
As a documentary filmmaker and educator, I have taught media courses about food sustainability, environmental justice and climate change for many years. “So what can we actually do about this?” is the desperate refrain I often hear from students eager to help.
Critical solutions such as eliminating plane travel, red meat or plastic highlight individual decisions and morality but fail to stress the need for collective action. Even using the word “solution” feels awkward given how entangled we are with existing energy systems and a capitalist web of consumption.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or complicit, which is why we need alternate stories and guideposts to figure out what to do once we begin to see the scale of our climate dilemma.
Collaborative and interactive storytelling
In response to a need to represent do-able but diverse solutions, I initiated a collaborative online documentary, The Shore Line, to profile the efforts of ordinary people taking actions along our global coast. I involved filmmakers and students across five continents, and together we filmed 43 video profiles over three years.
The goal was to focus on everyday individuals, doable solutions, and to weave hope into each narrative even if the solutions were temporary or incomplete. We cast a wide net, exploring coastal challenges through the lived experiences of artists, scientists, architects, lawyers, activists and educators from nine countries.
To accompany the video profiles, we developed interactive maps with sea level sliders in each storybook page.
We developed an interactive atlas of coastal density and mangrove growth to spotlight future risks to coastal ecosystems.
Our method of involving students and filmmakers from around the world and inviting users to engage with a dynamic platform was the first stage in our process of participatory documentary.
The next stage is sharing this resource with educators. We are currently collaborating with teachers on a range of strategy tool kits under themes such as community resilience, or Indigenous resurgence that are featured in the database area of the site.
We are also developing a set of workshop cards on a range of subjects including environmental journalism and speculative futures that teachers can download. An area called educator’s exchange will spotlight how teachers are using the site and making change. Flood views at the end of each chapter warn users of what some of our largest coastal cities may look like in the near future if we don’t get involved.
Shorelines are powerful and disruptive
Throughout the project, I saw the shoreline as both a frontline and a potent metaphor. More than half the world’s population lives within 60 kilometres of the sea, and three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast.
Shorelines are powerful, disruptive and awe-inspiring and remind us that we need to rethink the logics that have fuelled unsustainable growth along our global coasts. Our coasts are a frontline for disasters and they are also the frontline of resistance.
At each stage of production, I had lingering concerns. Had we translated the raw data we had at our fingertips into an emotionally resonant experience that would inspire youth to action?
Would we reach enough educators to ensure the project was relevant? And how might we share the follow up to the stories so that students could learn from failed solutions or ongoing challenges?
Building alternative futures through action and resistance
How can we foster the necessary skills for collaboration and community care in our schools? How do we balance the urgent need to act with the need to build resilient, sustainable classrooms and communities? And can a documentary interactive help to construct alternative futures?
For our team, the work of getting The Shore Line into classrooms has just begun. And importantly, the goal of the project is not to “deliver” a ready-made project or solution, but to use the project to incite more collaborative endeavours and to encourage more teachers, students and organizers to pilot their own local solutions through hands-on initiatives.
The Shore Line introduced our team to outstanding individuals across five continents and left us with many insights on communicating climate change and finding solutions.
To begin with, we realized that most of us cannot easily grasp the global threat of climate change, but instantly understand how storms and flooding result in devastation that can include lost loved ones, homes, crops, opportunities and cultures.
We saw that a majority of remarkable solutions are coming from countries with minimal resources and from women and youth.
We need to rethink development from pure economics to terms that address social inequalities and take into consideration the living shorelines we depend on for survival.
The other day, a student in my class asked me when we might see a shift or swell of consciousness around climate change, like the civil rights movement or women’s movements, that will prompt us to act more responsibly towards the planet. I encouraged her to start imagining it and then take the first step towards it.
This is what The Shore Line offered my students and collaborators in the process of production: One small step towards a future we want to defend, together.