|Dr. Cliff Cockerham, a health sciences researcher and educator, who was in Paris for the international climate conference, spoke with the sixth grade students at St. Ann School via Skype. Sixth grade student Michael Gawley, center, watches Cockerham on a large screen in the school library. Photo by Andy Telli
t. Ann School sixth graders got a front row seat to the United Nations climate conference in Paris recently thanks to the use of technology and the help of an environmental activist.
Dr. Cliff Cockerham, a St. Ann parishioner and health sciences researcher and educator, was in Paris for the climate conference. He visited with the students via Skype on Wednesday, Dec. 9, to give them a glimpse of the conference.
Talking to the students, Cockerham was confident that an international agreement to slow global warming would be reached. “I think after 21 years we’ll have a climate agreement,” he said. “This is the beginning of a solution, not the end. There’s still more work to do. … But it’s something we can do. We have the technology, we have the resources. What we haven’t had is an agreement.”
“If we continue on the course we’re on the polar caps will melt … the oceans will rise,” which will threaten island nations, including Haiti, where St. Ann Pastor Father Edwidge Carre, who was in the classroom with the students talking with Cockerham, was born.
Cockerham’s confidence in the negotiations involving 196 nations was borne out when an agreement was approved by the delegates to the conference on Dec. 12.
“What we are finding here is that after the countries reach an agreement, the countries can’t do it all. Each city, each state will have a part to play,” Cockerham told the St. Ann students. “Each one has a part to play.”
Cockerham urged the St. Ann students to do their part. “You guys in your seats at St. Ann have the ability to make Nashville one of the leading cities in America” in combating global warming and climate change, he said. If Nashville leads, other cities across the country will follow, and when thousands cities in the United States take action to affect climate change, cities around the world will follow, he said.
Cockerham noted that Pope Francis had asked people to fast and pray for a solution to the crisis. The students don’t have to do a complete fast, but could fast from eating beef, which requires the use of a large amount of energy to raise, he told the students.
While he was in Paris, Cockerham, president of the Tennessee Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, coordinated communications between a network of guest speakers and student reporters with schools and community groups back in the United States, including the group at St. Ann.
One of the guest speakers Cockerham arranged to talk to the St. Ann students was Sandy Kurtz, another member of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club who was in Paris.
The negotiations leading up to the agreement included a sense that the world had an obligation to help the poor around the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Kurtz said. “It’s about taking care of the poorest of the poor as the pope has said.”
Pope Francis issued his encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” earlier this year addressing the impact of climate change on the poor of the world with the hope it might impact the negotiations at the Paris conference.
“As we begin the Year of Mercy, we want to make sure the pope’s message is out there,” said St. Ann Principal Adelaide Nicholson.
In the last year, St. Ann School has launched several programs to help the students be more environmentally friendly, including the establishment of a bird sanctuary, a butterfly garden and a vegetable garden on campus, as well as starting recycling and composting programs, Nicholson said.
The school is also trying to get the message to the student’s parents about how they can help, she said. “We have to set an example for the students.”
The session with Cockerham was important for the students, Nicholson said. “It opens us to the world to be involved in something that’s going to be universal.”