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Teaching climate issues through gameplay gains a following in Brazil

  • The Climate Fresk workshop, known in Brazil as the Climate Mural, is a teaching model created in France and replicated in more than 50 countries to disseminate science-based climate knowledge in an interactive setting.
  • Its main teaching tool is a card game that allows participants to understand the cause-and-effect dynamics involved in climate change.
  • The workshop is usually held at universities, high schools and government facilities, but a growing number of companies have asked to host workshops to train their employees on climate issues.
  • In just three years, the global Climate Fresk initiative has trained 10,000 workshop facilitators and reached more than 300,000 participants around the world.

Agriculture, fossil fuels, deforestation, rising temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, forest fires, floods, droughts. These are just some of the factors and consequences involved in the complex cause-and-effect dynamics of the climate crisis, according to reports from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Due to the complexity of the topic, numerous doubts have emerged: What is the order of the factors and how many others are there? How is it possible to solve the problem? Why the urgency?

These are some of the questions that the Climate Fresk workshop has sought to answer. Using a game with 42 cards, each representing a factor for climate change, workshop participants are led to discover the real relationship between causes and consequences.

This teaching model, and the organization behind it, originally called La Fresque du Climat (climate fresco, or mural, in French), were created in 2018 by Cédric Ringenbach, a French professor who tested the game with his students, based on the IPCC’s findings.

In just three years, the game has been translated into some 30 languages, and now the workshop is being replicated by volunteers in more than 50 countries, including Brazil, where it’s known as the Climate Mural. The goal is to gradually bring that scientific knowledge to more people and show that everyone plays a role in both causing and solving the climate crisis, says Lucas Romao, an environmental engineer and one of the leaders of the Climate Mural in Brazil.

Educating the individual and collective minds

The workshop runs about three hours on average and is divided into three stages. The first stage is reflective, in which participants play cards and gain an overview of climate science. Then comes the creative stage, which involves drawing the links between the cards to increase participants’ ability to visualize the causes and consequences of climate change.

“This stage has a strong impact,” Romao says. It’s at this point when participants realize that the consequences are very serious and go beyond environmental impacts, such as health problems, hunger and poverty, among others. These consequences are already affecting billions of people around the world, as shown by the latest IPCC report. After the awareness-raising stage comes the stage when possible solutions are debated at individual, collective or sectoral levels.

According to Fernanda Tibério, a professor at São Paulo’s Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology and a Climate Mural facilitator, this climate education model is very instructive as it helps give a better understanding of a very complex topic. It’s also good in the Brazilian context, as there are currently few teachers with a background in climate science in the country.

Another advantage of the workshop is that it allows participants during the debate stage to “collectively contribute their knowledge” about “what kind of individual actions are possible and which collective ones are necessary,” Tibério says. This pursuit of collective intelligence has drawn even Brazilians who are familiar with the subject to participate in the workshops.

“What drove me was the desire to expand my socioenvironmental knowledge and strengthen my network of people who fight for the same cause,” says Jaqueline Cortes, a public relations student at the University of São Paulo and ambassador for environmental NGO Folhas Que Salvam, who attended a workshop in 2021 under the Journeys for the Climate program. “I was fortunate enough to meet people from different states and walks of life, who added a lot to my vision.”

Journeys for the Climate is one of the programs offered by the Climate Reality Project Brazil, part of a global organization founded by former U.S. vice president Al Gore, which uses workshops as an educational tool to mobilize against the climate crisis.

“There is an enormous diversity of backgrounds among the people who attend [the workshop through] the Journeys,” says Renata Moraes, an educator and the organization’s regional coordinator. “We have students from all Brazilian states, people with different levels of education and from different generations. Our youngest participant was 14 and the oldest one was 81. We encourage exchanges between these people as we understand there is a lot of value in that.”

Climate Mural workshops are usually in-person events, taking place at educational institutions, companies or government facilities. But online versions are sometimes offered. Image courtesy of the Climate Mural.

Training professionals and public servants

In Brazil, the workshops are held mainly at universities, high schools and other educational institutions. A growing number of companies in the country have also asked to host a workshop, citing the need to train their employees on climate issues. Environmental consulting firm I Care & Consult Brasil, for example, offers the workshop to every new employee, Romao says.

Moraes also notes this trend. “We’re getting requests from companies that want climate education for several management levels,” she says. It remains to be seen whether companies will actually put the lessons learned in the workshop into practice, and whether they will commit to ambitious climate goals, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Some professionals participated in the workshop on their own initiative, to bring the knowledge back to their workplaces. Tassia Bozza, for example, says she attended a workshop to “get to know other study methodologies on how climate change impacts lives and is interconnected with remote factors,” so that she can incorporate that knowledge into her architecture and urban planning work.

The public sector, however, hasn’t yet shown much interest in this climate education model. The federal government’s new director for education and environmental citizenship, Cristiane Freitas, for example, has never worked in either education or the environment. Her appointment in March prompted more than 60 organizations to release a joint statement in protest, on the grounds that she’s not qualified for the position.

While some officials from local governments and the federal and state environmental agencies have attended the workshops, they still account for a minority of participants. To address this, facilitators in Brazil and other countries have organized themselves to take the workshops directly to government officials through public policy conferences.

According to Romao, more than 200 facilitators from different countries went to COP26, the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow last November, to bring the workshops to the attention of politicians and public servants. Now, they’re organizing to bring them to Rio+30, the U.N. conference on the environment and sustainable development, set to be held in Rio de Janeiro this year. (No date has been set yet for the event.)

“Of course we won’t be able to change everything in three hours, but the idea [of the workshop] is to plant a seed in people’s minds,” Romao says. “We consider knowledge, information exchange, to be the first step toward effective climate action — both individual and collective.”

Reaching a million people

The Climate Fresk initiative has grown rapidly. In just three years, from 2018 to 2021, it branched out worldwide, and to date has trained around 10,000 workshop facilitators and reached more than 300,000 participants. In Brazil, there are around 70 facilitators spread across the country, and at least 2,000 people have attended workshops.

According to Romao, the number of participants has doubled every five months. He says the secret is to present a playful model of fun and interactive education, in addition to having a decentralized structure so that anyone who has previously participated in a workshop can become a facilitator.

The Climate Fresk’s international team aims to reach a million workshop participants by the end of this year. For Romao, the objective is not only to educate as many Brazilians as possible but also to bring knowledge about climate science to various decision-makers and places across the country.

“The better we grasp the problems, the greater our chances of understanding our role in collective spaces of change,” says Tibério, the facilitator and professor.

The most recent online workshop for Brazilian participants was on April 22, coinciding with Earth Day.

 
Banner image of a Climate Mural workshop, courtesy of the Climate Mural.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil team and first published here on our Brazil site on April 12, 2022.