With this in mind, McGarry is taking a fresh approach to his thesis in Environmental Education. Borrowing a concept from Joseph Beuys, a German artist who invented social sculpture and believed everyone is an artist and capable of reshaping their own understanding of the world, McGarry has conceived of an innovative social learning process called the Earth Forum.
Last week, as a part of the Re-Imaging mini festival that took place at the Environmental Learning Research Centre, a group of twenty youth from throughout the country gathered to conduct their own Earth Forum. With the help of Project 90 by 2030, which is funding the project, the group of young leaders met to discuss their thoughts around climate change in preparation for the UN Climate Change Summit and COP 17. “The purpose is to give an account from a youth perspective,” said Simone Carolissen from Cape Town. “Considering we’re the future, it’s important for them to know our ideas,” commented Michael Stroving, also from Cape Town.
The Earth Forum operates on the idea that we are all citizens of the earth, and thus responsible participants, capable of imaging a more desirable future. It is a method of interaction that can also be used in conflict resolution or to address a variety of community and social issues. The process encourages agenda-less gathering through creating an atmosphere where the stakeholders in a particular issue are anonymous, and thus not defined by their institution or professional role. These labels characterise us by what we ‘do’, undermining us a complex ‘beings’, says McGarry.
“We wanted something that would work with what we do, but we wanted to acknowledge that [our] doings are influenced by what [we] value being,” says McGarry, explaining that the Earth Forum creates a space for interaction that is not debate or deliberation, but one that emphasises the purest form of communication: listening.
What’s so great about the Earth Forum is that it’s easily replicated, says McGarry, “It’s inexpensive, accessible, and it has integrity.” The only thing it needs to function is a basic kit which consists of an oil cloth (used to symbolise a common territory) and a handbook, along with a facilitator, who must have attended at least five forums.
“Building people’s capacity to image and refine their ability to really listen are very important aspects,” says McGarry, “The Earth Forum uses a particular shape and form to bring together people from all different backgrounds.”
Although the Earth Forum is still in its incubating stages, it has successfully toured South Africa via the Climate Train, in an effort to gather steam for COP 17 in December. Through visiting such dissimilar environments as remote Karoo dorpies and big city Joburg, the forum has been able to draw out a multiplicity of voices, valuing each one of them equitably.