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How can we handle climate change?

Senior students embark on a three day problem-solving marathon to try and find solutions to one of the biggest challenges facing us today and in the future.

Group shot of all the Powering Potential students

Year 12 and 13 students from across the country have been taking different approaches to answer the all-important question: ‘How can we handle climate change?’

The forty students travelled to Wellington to spend three days brainstorming, researching, validating and presenting solutions to ten climate-related questions put to them by scientists.

The questions ranged from ‘How do New Zealand houses impact on climate change and how can we minimise this?’ to ‘What role could biofuels play in reducing emissions in New Zealand’s transport fleet?’

The students were grouped into teams of four and given just 48 hours of work time to investigate and find a solution to one of these questions.

Students at work

“One of the most difficult parts has been narrowing down our question, as it was so broad,” says David Rawnsley, 18, from Napier, whose team explored ‘How should the changing climate impact on how we think about ecosystem restoration in a sanctuary?’

Teammate Hannah Hudson, a 16-year-old from Christchurch, tells us, “One thing I’ve realised is that climate change means that we can’t take anything for certain and we need to think about lots of different scenarios for the future.”

Team at work

The programme, known as Powering Potential, is organised by the Royal Society Te Apārangi with support from Freemasons New Zealand.

“We have a different theme each year, which for 2016 was climate change,” says Debbie Woodhall, who manages the programme at the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

“This year is the Society’s 150th anniversary, so the theme for the next Powering Potential is ‘Past and Future’.”

Silvia Zuur at Enspiral facilitated the activities across the three days, from ice-breaking games to advising the students on how best to present their findings.  

Silvia tells us that a key part of Powering Potential is how the questions come from scientists working directly in these fields. Additionally the students have mentors and scientists on hand to answer any questions and support their enquiries.

“All the work has to be part of the students’ own journey – and it’s incredible what fresh minds can bring to some wicked challenges,” she says. “I’m always amazed at just how innovative these students are and it never fails to inspire me how much they achieve in just 48 hours.”

Students giving a presentation

The students were selected mainly because they have a particularly big passion for the world of science.

“I really love how we are all so like-minded, which has made it really easy for me to make friends with others and for us to work well together,” says Eilish Quinn, 16, from Remuera.  

Her team, called The Gehks (pronounced “geeks”), looked at how kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) can help balance the technology of geothermal energy with cultural beliefs and traditions.

Teammate Georgia van Vuuren, 17, from Avonside, agrees: “We all have this ‘curiosity’ mindset of scientists, which I think is really cool.”

18-year-old Rhys Duncan from Cambridge, whose team Thirsty for Work looked at climate change and drought, says, “It’s intense but great fun and I’ve really enjoyed it. I would definitely do it again.”


Powering Potential logoThe next round of applications for Powering Potential 'Past and Future' will be opened in Winter 2017.

Visit the Powering Potential webpage to find out more.

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