On May 17, 2013 Grand Rapids hosted six schools from three different continents in the first annual Virtual RCE Youth Conference. Allowing for global communication and collaboration, this virtual conference inspired the next generation to seriously address the issue of Sustainability related to water issues by thinking globally and acting locally.
In attendance were RCE Grand Rapids (Michigan, USA), RCE Bogota (Medellin, Colombia), RCE Curitiba (Parana, Brazil), RCE Rhine Meuse (Kerkrade, Netherlands), and RCE Regina (Saskatchewan, Canada).
“Today the world became a little smaller, and the future is a little brighter.”
-Mayor George K. Heartwell
Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States
The first presentation was given by the hosts at City Middle High School. They focused on the problems Quagga mussels pose to their local watershed. In their presentation they answered the questions, “What are Quagga mussels?” “How did they get here?” “How does this affect us?” and “How can we help?” Afterwards students attending the conference had questions pertaining to both the positive and negative effects of the Quagga mussel and how they can work together to solve these problems.
The RCE in Brazil discussed issues pertaining to the Iguazu River. In their presentation they focused on the fact that in one month alone over 4,000,000 liters of crude oil was spilled into the river. This oil spill led to innumerable problems in their local environment and watershed. The students in Brazil then stressed the importance of education and collaboration of local and global forces to prevent similar environmental disasters in the future. The students whole-heartedly agreed and then began to pose questions as to how they can help, how to get more community involvement, and how to better protect local environments.
Stella Maris College in the Netherlands concentrated their presentation on the Dutch dykes. They explained that the dykes worked to serve as dams to protect populated areas from flooding. They highlighted the importance of the Delta Works in their area, a complex of dykes, levees, locks, working to protect land areas. Intrigued students then inquired about how water-dwelling organisms are effected by the dykes, how the dykes are effected by global warming, and if the dykes are working sufficiently.
Students in the RCE Colombia were second the present. They informed the participating students about their research on the Magdelena River. They explained that the river is victim to extreme pollution, overfishing, and deforestation. They expanded on this by explaining that because of this there is now significantly less success in the fishing industry, less forest products available, significantly less drinking water, and that the area is now prone to flooding. After their conclusion students asked to hear more about the public awareness of these problems, the long-term effects, and how the issues are currently being managed.
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
The RCE in Canada at Luther High School was the last to give their presentation. They focused on the movement of water from the Wascana Watershed, to the Qu’Appelle River, to Winnepeg Lake. In their research they found that unlike many other local watersheds, this water mainly originates from rain and snow. As a result, without man-made lakes Wascana Creek would have to potential to dry up during the warmer seasons. Students then asked questions about community actions to preserve the watershed, and who checks to pollution and acidity levels of the waters.
The virtual conference concluded with a word from conference facilitator Ryan Huppert and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. They congratulated the students and directors on the success of the first annual YVC of the UNU RCE’s and thanked all those who were involved for participating. Both speakers were thrilled that students had successfully connected from around the world to start a serious conversation on education for sustainable development.