Who Survives? Who Decides?

Global climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. It is a particularly charged topic in the Fingers Lakes region of Upstate New York, where in recent years hydrofracking, factory farming, toxic waste storage, renewable energy initiatives, and development projects on and near Native American sovereign territories have created deep divisions among residents. Despite overwhelming evidence that human activity is adversely impacting our climate system, roughly half of Americans remain unconvinced of our responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. Deliberate, organized, and well-funded efforts to distort the public’s understanding fuel climate denial, thwarting efforts to identify and implement solutions.

As a land grant institution, Cornell was built on the concept that what is happening in the world matters to and affects what happens in our classrooms. A series of Engaged Cornell grants supported a multi-year collaboration between the Department of Performing and Media Arts, climate scientist Toby Ault, Civic Ensemble theater company, and the citizens of Tompkins to create original, community-based plays about the local impacts of climate change. This work was developed in a Theater and Social Change class, co-taught by Sara Warner and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., and staged at various locations across the county.