While politicians endlessly debate environmental issues, men and women of all cultures and nationalities, unwilling to wait for others to protect their homes, are taking matters into their own hands. Urgent times require new strategies, creative thinking and risk-taking. Greenpeace Chile recently took action to defend Chile’s glaciers and you can use this event in the classroom for lessons on civics, geography, culture and, of course, communicative skills. Last spring I used their materials in a modified version of an Integrated Performance Assessment that combined interpretive reading, listening and writing assessments.
In April 2014 Greenpeace Chile announced on the Internet and in the NY Times the formation of a new country: La República Glaciar. Frustrated with a lack of federal laws and regulations to protect Chile’s glaciers from the pollution and destruction due to mining industry practices, Greenpeace Chile decided to claim the glaciers. They reasoned that since the Chilean government refused to see the massive “chunks of ice” as falling under their jurisdiction and care, the glaciers could be declared sovereign territory by settlers willing to form a government. This new nation existed to protect the glaciers. The República Glaciar promised to cede the glaciers to Chile if and when Chile legally ensures and enforces their protection.
For the IPA, I combined excerpts from Greenpeace Chile’s press release as well as a short video on the website of the República Glaciar. Students read the announcement and watched the video, then answered comprehension questions and wrote a response to Greenpeace Chile’s Hazte Ciudadano campaign. This took about two class periods.
Students needed prior exposure to the context, such as cultural and political practices, and needed to have the language tools, such as relevant vocabulary and grammatical points. For example, my students were familiar with basic geography and weather of Chile and could describe the scenes in the video and photos. We had been using vocabulary to describe some environmental issues (most textbooks seem to have one chapter dedicated to this theme) and basic government functioning (words and concepts such as law, right, responsibility, community, citizen, etc.). In addition, we had just covered the present perfect tense (indicative and subjunctive). Thus they could describe what happened from Greenpeace’s perspective and offer opinions or analysis using the subjunctive in noun clauses.
Recently, President Michelle Bachelet introduced measures to protect Chile’s glaciers, so it seems that República Glaciar successful. Now students can use the written and video updates on the website to analyze Greenpeace’s political action, which included the occupation of the glaciers, social media outreach, print advertisement, letter/twitter writing, lobbying of politicians, the campaign to add new citizens and rallies.
Another approach is to have students identify the stakeholders in this conflict, what each group stood/stands to gain or lose and how they are connected to each other. Don’t forget to include the natural world as stakeholders and introduce the systems approach to understanding the problem: what would happen if the glaciers were destroyed or polluted?
An interesting cultural question to add: could this strategy be successful in the United States? Why or why not? What problems could this strategy resolve (or create)? A number of my students noted that establishing a permanent community on the glaciers might lead to pollution and destruction of that which they meant to protect—although the relative impact seems like it would be smaller when compared to the impact from the mining industry.