Of Bogs, Abandoned Mines, and Coastlines: A German-American youth podcast on climate change and biodiversity

How does climate change affect biodiversity in your area?  

That was the question put to three groups of students from three very distinct places: the Ruhr Valley in Germany, historic center of European steel production; Bavaria, with its idyllic Alpine backdrop; and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, once crowned the seafood capital of the world and now home to the increasingly ubiquitous petrochemical industry. Each location is home to vibrant local cultures with long-standing connections to the landscape, but each community encounters and confronts the consequences of unchecked climate change in different ways. In Gulfport, people gather on the beach to plant grasses that once defined the shoreline. In Essen, the ruins of hyper-industrialization are met by efforts at re-naturalization. And in the area around Munich, urbanity is drying out the wetlands, causing the iconic call of the Unken, or fire-bellied toad, to fall silent.

To answer the question, students undertook field visits, interviewed scientists and policy experts, attended a series of online lectures, and conducted independent research. The result is a collaborative podcast and digital zine that start to tell the story of the relationship between biodiversity and climate change, both by way of the specificity of place and through commonalities shared among all three regions. You can listen to the POCACITO ClimateCast podcast below and find it on most platforms. The English-language episode provides an introduction to work from all three groups. The German episode includes additional interviews the students conducted with experts.

English language above, German below

So, what is the relationship between climate change and biodiversity in the Ruhr Valley, Bavaria, and along the US Gulf Coast? We encourage you to listen to the podcasts to find out, but the cumulative effect of the podcast and zine certainly shows a meaningful relationship. For Ruhr Valley residents, the students describe, carbon emissions and climate change are intertwined with the region’s history. In Munich, we learn about the relevance of bogs to the Bavarian ecosystems and how urban consumption endangers the habitats of cultural referents. And in Mississippi, we hear about the impact of marine-dependent economies on the environments that sustain them. History, culture, economics: so much of what it means to live in or be from a place is connected to this question about biodiversity and climate change, wherever in the world we live.

POCACITO teamed with Mississippi State University Coastal Research & Extension Center in Biloxi, especially Nora Skinner and Allie Barnett, for on-site programming that included field visits to Mississippi’s barrier islands. In Germany, students started their work with a guided walk led by Dr. Frauke Krüger from the Naturschutzbund Ruhr. All students were able to take part in a series of live online lectures with Professor Dr. Victor Smetacek from the Alfred Wegner Institute, Dr. Véronique Helfer and Professor Dr. Martin Zimmer from the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research, and POCACITO’s Max Gruenig. Consul General Melanie Moltmann joined the celebration of the podcast and zine publication.

Mostly, however, the podcast’s success is due to the initiative and efforts of the students themselves, including the great guitar riff that serves as the episode’s theme music. What we come away with is a sense of the destruction climate change has already wrought on our environments but even more so the feeling that the future lies in capable hands.

We invite you to celebrate their work and share it with friends and neighbors. And stay tuned for future episodes.

Special thanks is extended to the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany Atlanta for its generous support of this project.