Challenging climate change: why do we care?

A youth conference tackling climate change at Christchurch proves to be a learning experience in many ways. BSc students Amelia Dewhurst and Rose Bayldon take us behind the scenes at the organising committee.


Since the two of us were children, climate change and the destruction of our natural world have been in the collective psyche of the developed world. We grew up being told that aerosols were making a hole in the ozone, we should avoid driving too much, and that the items we buy these days are covered in far too much packaging. It wasn’t something that the we had to relearn later on: it was natural for us to think about the changing climate, worry about it and strategise about what we could do to help.

It was puzzling that no one else seemed to think it was that big a deal. Had they not read Dr Seuss’s The Lorax as a child? Why did they think it wasn’t an issue that didn’t need to affect their day-to-day life? Worse, did they expect someone else to fix it?

We realise now how lucky we were to grow up with that knowledge. And we see in lots of young people today this same desire to know more, do more, and take action in a meaningful way. We see others who are looking around them, knowing something is not right, and looking for friends who think the same way. We know that it is often hard to do things alone, so, are there opportunities for people to meet their tribe?

The Climate Challenge Conferences

A sustainable, clean, green future for New Zealand is achievable. We can have a harmonious relationship with nature. The future is frightening, but we must take control by recognising that our actions have impacts on the environment. Climate change is the challenge of our generation: as rangatahi of Ōtautahi we can work together to inspire and motivate change on all levels, engaging all with this discussion.

A youth-for-youth initiative, the Climate Challenge Conference was started in Wellington in 2015. Since then, there have been nearly 700 attendees throughout the conference, held at Wellington, Auckland and for a second year, Christchurch.

The Climate Challenge Conferences are all about educating, empowering, connecting and activating young people, with themes around understanding climate science, policy, effects on Māori and Pasifika people, future technology, and what we can do within our communities. The conference supports positive change in all these areas. There are opportunities for high school and tertiary students across the country to learn about leadership, change-making and climate issues in an interactive and engaging way that has been designed for and by youth.

Here’s a bit about our journey into challenging climate change for our future, organising a conference to help spread the word and useful skills we learnt along the way!

Amelia’s story

I’m Amelia, camp mum for the Christchurch team. When I’m not working on climate change action, I’m usually studying it (Geology & Geography student at UC), or, preaching about it!

I had the luxury and disappointment of understanding climate change as a kid. I enrolled at UC to further my understanding when the high school curriculum didn’t cover what I was craving. While I have been involved in a few climate/ environmental campaigns, the Climate Challenge Conference addresses one of the most important issues for me, especially as this program is something I wished was available while I was in high school.

As the Conference Coordinator, I see myself as a bridge-builder or a juggler. Hurdles are expected, the team knows there has been quite a few! Therefore, it has been particularly important for me to stay dependable and loyal, so that the team can be comfortable with the many moving parts. I am proud to take part ownership of this event, and how we have responded to these hurdles of venue, sponsorship, promotion and registration.

Meaningful communication, networking and personal growth are what I am most excited about, for the conference this weekend. I’m lucky to be part of this great committee and am looking forward to sharing it with all who attend.

Rose’s story

The environment has always been something that I found important and fascinating, a concept more than anything else, that you can’t nail down to one thing. The world is full of beautiful and incredible things: colours, shapes, smells and feelings. There is so much to explore, and so many types of exploration. I personally love tramping, kayaking, camping, studying biology and geography, looking at random plants in the garden, and just plain old looking at the view. The natural world is like music, it evokes feelings, memories, and you can spend hours in it, just appreciating it. It’s also very easy to forget that it’s around us!

The Climate Challenge was one of those opportunities that looks amazing, almost too good to be true. When I signed up to be on the committee, I expected to be given the “thanks but we’ve filled the role” almost straight away. So, I signed up with fingers crossed, not too much hope, and promptly forgot about it.

A few months later, heading back from the big smoke (Auckland) to Christchurch, I got a call. Some weird sustainability thing I’d signed up for? Hm. Vaguely rings a bell? Yes, I’m free tomorrow! Yes, I can come meet the team to discuss this further!

Fast forward 4 months, and I am still so pleased to have this wonderful opportunity. It’s a lot of work, but it’s incredible to be involved in the process, and do something that is meaningful to me.

My role is in promotions, which for a while meant afternoons spent on the phone, trying to drum up attendees. I’d ask to talk to various people, with a lot of rejections and occasionally an acceptance! I sent buckets of emails and waited by my computer for a reply for a few weeks (there wasn’t a lot else to do before classes started for the year). Now, my job has expanded to liaising with ambassadors in schools, and getting posts up on social media. Figuring out how to use registration websites and designing posters are technology-centred things that I never thought I’d enjoy, but I have surprised myself!

There are also aspects we handled as a team. Deciding who we wanted to speak and do workshops was fun, and helping choose the menu was just mouth-watering! Negotiating red tape and health and safety forms was one of the less enticing tasks, but a necessary one. And I have learned how to negotiate these now, so let me know if you need me to fill out any of your forms for you! (Please don’t, I don’t want to do any more of those.)

A lesson I had to learn was not to take these things personally. If a school didn’t want to be involved, it wasn’t because of me, Rose Bayldon. It was because of time and effort and priorities. Maybe sometimes it was me: I was so excited to be involved that I had to stop myself from talking some receptionist’s ear off about what a great opportunity this was. Because I truly believe that this is a fantastic event! I wish I could have attended a programme like this while I was in high school.

The team I work with is an amazing, passionate mix of people I would probably have not met had I not been involved, so I am very grateful for the opportunity.

If I had any advice for people trying to organise an event it would be this: do it early. Confirm your venue as early as possible. Get your team together as early as possible. Ask your speakers as soon as you can. Ask for money as soon as you can (no one likes to ask for it, but sadly it is very necessary if you want to do things like advertise, feed people, and maybe even help people travel to your conference). Early is good. Prepared is good. No one likes to be caught with their pants around their ankles.

So, Christchurch, are you resigned to climate change, or are you ready for a challenge?

Come and talk to others who believe in the same things, and appreciate the beauty of the world. Come and meet people who are drastically different to you, but can agree on the important things. Come and learn that you can make a change, wherever you are, whatever stage you are in. There are many ways you can bring an influence in the world.

Join us at the Christchurch Climate Challenge Conference, 29-30 June, and let’s figure out ways to solve this together. Register here.  Scholarships are available, and registrations close 27 June – get in quick!

Amelia Dewhurst and Rose Bayldon