PASC Climate Cafe Series Offers Discussion-based Space for Climate Education

The first Climate Cafe of the year focused on how the upcoming United States of America midterm elections will impact climate policy. A series of discussion-based events hosted by Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition (PASC), Climate Cafes were founded in 2019 by former PASC coordinator Frank Zhou ’22 and Derek Curtis, the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library’s (OWHL) Programming and Digital Content Producer. The series aims to facilitate informative climate conversations on and off campus. 

Dominique Williams ’24, a member of PASC and current coordinator of the Climate Cafes, described the evolution of the event over the past few years and outlined what the series will look like this year. She explained that Zhou first started the series after realizing that many conversations about climate change among students and faculty were not grounded in scientific information. 

“Climate Café [was] started to bring in experts about climate change and the intersectionality of climate issues onto campus to start these conversations about climate change in our school communities, in the way ASM has done in starting conversations on campus. Going forward, we are going to try to mix discussions with inviting speakers and see which ones are more effective in engaging students in dialogue and in conversations about climate change and climate activism on and off campus in a broader scope,” said Williams.

Last Sunday, the event focused on the influence of climate change on candidate platforms and political polarization. Participants were given optional readings prior to the meeting, and then engaged in open-ended discussions about the relationship between climate change and politics. These types of discussion and thought-provoking meetings will continue as either bi-weekly or monthly gatherings throughout the rest of the year.

Williams elaborated on the variety of topics and speakers that the series will host throughout the year, with the aim of constantly bringing new conversations and ideas to the student body.  

“The topic and the speaker always comes from the students. Last year we had a speaker who runs a composting business in North Andover… We’ve also had speakers who were Andover alumni. Last spring, we had a speaker who was doing research on climate economics in UCLA. We’ve even had a student presentation on the topic of sustainable architecture that he covered in architecture class. It’s really just, who do we think captures the essence of the learning that we’re trying to achieve, and what can this person bring to the conversation that we’re trying to establish about climate change on campus?” said Williams.

Gauri Kumar ’25 has attended Climate Cafes since Spring Term of last year. She views the Climate Cafes as a comfortable space to learn, listen, and discuss ideas regarding climate change. 

“I actually really like climate cafes. It’s really comfortable and the idea that we could get all these really fantastic guest speakers at every Climate Cafe last year was just amazing for me to think about. This year, we’re actually gearing it more towards having more student oriented conversations, as well as having a few guest speakers. . . . You don’t need to know everything about climate change to be there and to learn because it is, fundamentally, a learning space and just a space for people to discuss what they think about climate change. Although you can just talk anywhere, I feel like having a specific space geared towards [these discussions] is just great for the student body,” said Kumar. 

Sebastian Lemberger ’25, a board member of PASC who now plays a role in organizing Climate Cafe meetings, outlined some upcoming educational initiatives planned for the series in the upcoming year. Reflecting on the potential impact of the Cafes on the school community, he expressed hope that the Cafes would raise students’ climate awareness and motivate them to fight climate change. 

“Information is the primary goal, but the other one is to convince people to care, because often people’s relationship to climate change and environmentalism is somewhat dispassionate in that they go ‘oh yeah, this is bad’, and then they don’t do anything. So, my hope is that with an in-depth discussion or exploration, it will cause people to realize how great these [issues] truly are,” said Lemberger.