There is a huge banner traveling around the world spreading the message of how important climate change is to children. The banner is a colorful patchwork of more than 2,600 drawings made by children from 33 countries.
The drawings were entries for an international drawing competition in which children were asked to show how trees help cool the earth and how this helps protect penguins, coral reefs and people. A tree was planted for every drawing submitted to the Kids Care About Climate Change competition.
The banner is a whopping 23 feet tall and 14 feet wide (7 meters by 4.2 meters) and was recently displayed at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.
The competition was created by Marji Puotinen, a geographer and researcher in Perth, Australia, who studies the effects of natural disturbances such as hurricanes on the world’s coral reefs. She is part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, which works to help the Great Barrier Reef survive with short-term interventions while the world reduces carbon emissions.
“Perhaps more important than the above, I am a mother of three who deserve a safe planet to grow and live on. So the painting competition that produced the GIANT banners is part of what I do for free in my free time, involving my own children as much as possible,” Puotinen tells Treehugger.
As part of Homeward Bound, an international leadership program for women, she dedicated even more time to children and the climate.
“I created a climate change outreach program that challenges kids to be scientists for a day and find the answer to a crazy question: what do penguins and coral reefs have in common? It uses immersive fun and art to understand why climate change is a crisis – like touching coral skeletons, eating like coral polyps, overheating in a penguin pack, bleaching Marji the coral polyp in a costume and all that Making corals out of playdough and LEGO.”
In 2018, she created a giant banner for the first version of the Kids Care About Climate Change drawing contest and filmed it in a penguin colony along the Antarctic Peninsula.
This time Puotinen offered children a video explaining how trees remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, why this helps cool the earth and why penguins and coral reefs are threatened by warming oceans.
“We wanted to provide a simple way to empower children to work with each other and adults to build a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous future for all,” she says.
She visited schools in Perth and virtually in Indonesia and China, contacting every school she had ever worked with and every teacher she knew in multiple countries. She emailed hundreds of schools and did podcasts, radio interviews and sent messages to anyone she could think of to help spread the word about the competition.
The competition eventually received 2,629 entries from 33 nations and 213 schools, as well as some homeschoolers. They came from every continent except Antarctica.
“The artist’s country of origin has a great influence on how children interpreted the subject,” says Puotinen. “Children in Mozambique, for example, made drawings that focused on how trees enable the essentials of life, while children in Australia focused on the fun activities they can do in and around trees.”
A powerful message
Puotinen printed two identical banners so one could be sent around the world and one to tour Australia with her.
“Due to their enormous size, the banners had to be printed in 5 sections each and then laboriously and robustly sewn together by my husband on an industrial sewing machine. Each banner took him 10 hours to build,” she says.
The lightweight banners have handles along the entire edge.
“This makes the banners very resilient to rough handling by enthusiastic kids (who love using the banner to play the ‘parachute game’) as well as being hung over rainforests where it can be shaken by the wind,” she says. “The handles also mean you can hang it, march it, and anchor it to the ground when it’s windy.”
The banner has visited schools and colleges in Australia, as well as a mangrove forest and national park. It was exhibited at COP26 and plans to visit Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, where so many entries came from.
“The goal of showing and filming the giant banner is to amplify the children’s voices as expressed in their drawings, to show them how a drawing they make may not be noticed, but is through the aggregation Having a greater impact with other children around the world can lead to that,” says Puotinen.
“It is also intended to inspire and empower the adults around these children, who may struggle to find a way to take action on the climate themselves, but find it easier and more fulfilling to do so in partnership with their children. Specifically, as part of that goal, we wanted to bring the giant banner to COP26 to remind delegates and world leaders of their commitment to delivering climate justice outcomes for children and people around the world who have contributed little to the climate crisis but on… are most affected.”
Puotinen teamed up with an Australian tree-planting organization called 15 Trees to plant a tree for each drawing. The group organized community groups to plant more than 50 different species of native Australian trees in two locations.
“We hope this inspires children to join the tree planting effort in their local communities,” she says. “Like 10 children from Pakistan did as part of making their drawings – they voted and made a pact to each plant a tree and take care of it. And two other kids from Africa challenged themselves to plant a tree for every like of their drawings they receive on social media.”
Puotinen says she feels the competition and giant banner helped raise awareness and discussion about climate change.
“I learned from the first competition that people are often very concerned about the climate crisis but feel overwhelmed and doubt that anything they can do matters,” she says. “We want to show them how good it feels to connect in community with other people around the world to work together to make their voices heard through art. In short, our goal is to provide a way for children and the adults who love them to take action.”