Games wake people up to climate change

DURBAN Fri Dec 2, 2011 4:22am EST

Associate Director of Programs Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Pablo Suarez illustrates games used to educate people on climate change during a side event at the Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, December 1, 2011.  REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Associate Director of Programs Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Pablo Suarez illustrates games used to educate people on climate change during a side event at the Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, December 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Rogan Ward

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DURBAN (Reuters) - When Pablo Suarez began teaching farmers, fishermen and emergency volunteers about rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns using scientists and a powerpoint presentation, people were falling asleep in their chairs.

Eventually he decided on a very different approach.

"I had to convey the idea of a storm, of an extreme weather event, and I had a Frisbee and I just threw it into the audience," Suarez, a Red Cross associate director of programs, told Reuters on the sidelines of a global climate summit.

"And the audience woke up, they saw that there was danger."

Soon Suarez began using games to explain more complex ideas like micro insurance to mitigate risks for subsistence farmers. He also teamed up with the Parsons School for Design in New York to create a number of climate games geared at communities, volunteers and policy makers.

"Farmers in Ethiopia don't have insurance in their language so we introduced a game with stones, where everyone has some stones but not enough to pay for when their child gets malaria and has to go to hospital," the Argentine researcher said.

Janot Mendler de Suarez from the Boston University Pardee Centre, who collaborates on the project, explained its impact.

"When you have that 'Aha!' moment in the game you see people's faces light up," she said. "That's a knowledge that you're much more likely to act on."

Games are not the only way to teach about climate change.

In Uganda, a national radio network brings farmers onto the newscast to explain, often in the local dialect, what seeds or trees best to plant where and when.

In Jamaica, think-tank Panos Caribbean enlisted the help of well-known local artists to write climate change songs and perform them at schools and in communities.

Through catchy tunes, some of them performed to reggae rhythms, songs such as "Global Warning" or "Mother Earth's Cry" help people to understand the dangers, said Indi McLymont-Lafayette, Panos' regional director for environment.

"Jamaica and the Caribbean are an oral culture and (people) would much more quickly absorb the message through music than through reading something in the newspaper or watching it in a newscast," she said.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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