Voices of Tomorrow: Engaging the Youth at the International Day of Forests Student Debate
While listening to the arguments presented at the fifth annual International Day of Forests Student Debate, hosted on 21 March 2018, one could almost hear the words, “Protect the wild, tomorrow’s child,” from singer Neil Young in his 2014 environmental track “Who’s Going to Stand Up.” This sentiment was keenly felt throughout the morning. Indeed, Dr. Kundhavi Kadiresan, the Assistant Director - General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, spoke of the importance of the youth in her own opening remarks. After contemplating the upcoming demographic and global trends, she aptly noted that, “Young people always bring a new perspective,” to the global conversation. Dr. David Ganz, the Executive Director of RECOFTC - The Center for People and Forests, had similar words of wisdom as he recounted his own youth and the importance of experience in shaping his professional development, urging the students to become more engaged in giving back to the community through forestry.
These remarks were well placed as the students began their debates. The purpose of these debates have always been twofold and interrelated: (1) incorporate a broad spectrum of educational levels and promote key issues in forestry by engaging youth; (2) celebrate the International Day of Forests through spirited discussion on the most pressing and relevant topics in the field. We do the latter by explicitly engaging the former, believing that it is the youth who will be the future of change in our world. Thus, as annually celebrated for the past four years, RECOFTC, along with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and UN Environment Programme, was thrilled to host this year’s debate and listen as the students presented and shared their cases, based on weeks of research, on the topic of sustainable cities and forestry.
Six teams from four middle and high schools and two teams from universities from Bangkok participated in the event:
Anglo Singapore International School
Asian Institute of Technology (AIT)
Garden International School
Kasetsart University, Faculty of Forestry
Panyarat High School
Wells International School
Broken up into four different debates, students from a variety of age groups squared off to debate the following topics: (1) Trees and urban forests help mitigate climate change; (2) Trees in urban areas remove harmful pollutants; (3) Creating urban green spaces in and around cities will improve the well-being of people living in these areas; (4) Sustainable cities and urban forests reduce pressure on natural forests. All four topics were well research and presented nicely by both the affirmative and negative teams. As practitioners with experience in the field, it was heartening to see such dedication to the topic at hand.
Yet of more importance, while waiting for the judges to decide the winners, one student was able to capture the spirit of the day’s activity. Reflecting on what she learned, the student discussed how the debate showed the importance of involving the youth in mitigating climate change within cities. As such, she hopes that in the future, the schools can collaborate to reduce some of the environmental stressors happening in Bangkok.
In these moments of unity, whether it is through intellectual debate or a call for collective action, RECOFTC is proud to work with today’s youth, encouraging them to envision a greener and healthier world. Even though Dr. Ganz comically stated that everyday is International Day of Forests for RECOFTC, this event stands out as a special opportunity to inch closer to this realization.