State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


New Program for High School Students Will Explore Climate Complexity in Chile and Argentina

flat rocky area with mountains in the distance
Piedras Rojas in the Atacama Desert, Chile. Source: Westcottm, Wikimedia Commons

The unique landscape of Chile and Argentina holds a key resource necessary for combatting climate change, while simultaneously experiencing devastating climate impacts. The region is a critical supplier of one of the world’s most precious materials. Argentina, Bolivia and Chile are known as the “lithium triangle,” holding more than half of the world’s reserves of lithium — key to making batteries, which serve an important role in the energy transition and climate solutions.

The lucrative lithium mining industry presents an economic boon for these countries. However, there are environmental and ethical concerns about the extraction practices. Lithium mines extract large amounts of groundwater, which makes the Chile’s lithium mines in the Atacama Desert hotter and drier. A 2022 study found that lithium mining resulted in an 11% population reduction in the local flamingos over the past decade. Environmental degradation from lithium mining negatively impacts surrounding Indigenous communities, driving social justice concerns. The environmental impacts of mineral extraction exacerbate the already felt climate pressures of this region. The climate change in Chile and Argentina are melting glaciers and driving water insecurity and conflicts over water rights. The complexity of this region as it navigates climate change makes this region a particularly important area to study.

A new program will help high-school students can deeply understand the climate challenges and solutions of this area through place-based, field learning experiences. This summer 2023, we are excited to offer the Columbia Climate Corps Chile & Argentina Program for the first time!

The Columbia Climate Corps summer programs are small group climate and sustainability-focused traveling programs designed for motivated high school students. The program combines intentional travel and in-depth educational opportunities to experience a destination through the lens of climate change and focus intently on location-specific themes.

The Climate Corps Chile and Argentina program focuses on the themes of climate impacts and risk. This three-week journey will begin in Santiago, Chile where students will hear from Nicolas Maennling, an expert of sustainable management of mineral resources and responsible mining practices in the Andean region, followed by a visit to a mining town to learn about the industry. They will travel to Valparaíso, Chile to learn about climate disaster risk reduction strategies from the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy.

Students will then journey north into the landscape of colorful lagoons, salt flats, and volcanoes in the Atacama Desert to learn about the history of mining in the region. Students will discuss issues of human rights and gender equality in the mining sector while learning about the impacts of desertification and water management challenges for local communities.

Students will then enter the Argentinian Andes and meet with small communities to learn how climate change is impacting their regions. Here, students will hike through the extraordinary geological formations and explore biodiversity in Calilegua National Park to learn about conservation of wild lands and ecological zones.

antonia samur headshot
Antonia Samur is a staff associate at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia Climate School. Antonia has experience working at the interface of climate impacts and human development. She will join the inaugural Columbia Climate Corps Chile and Argentina Program summer 2023.

The trip ends in Salta, Argentina, where students will finish up their final projects and share with their peers while recounting on the experience they have all just shared together.

Joining the Chile and Argentina trip this summer is Antonia Samur of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. Antonia has a background in climate impacts and human development. In the Q&A below, Antonia discusses her excitement for the upcoming Columbia Climate Corps Summer Pre-College Program.

What will you teach at Columbia Climate Corps Chile & Argentina Program? Why do you love to teach these topics to young people?  

I will be teaching about the challenges of climate change and other disaster hazards in Chile. I will focus on the social and political dimensions of climate change, disaster impacts, and coping/adaptation capacities, as well as disaster management systems in Chile and how disaster management policy has evolved in the last few decades in response to disaster events.

What is the importance of engaging high school students with climate change challenges and solutions?

We need the younger generations to take an interest in innovative solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to understand its complexities as climate change interacts with all other global challenges. These challenges are multidisciplinary and will require future generations of college graduates to think about their lives and careers in much more holistic ways than previous generations. We need creative and flexible minds that can be optimistic enough to imagine a sustainable future and then build it. We need young professionals to help us think outside the box.

The most obvious fields students might think about when considering the issues of climate change are technology, engineering, advancing the physical sciences and research, etc. But equally important, if not more, is the socio-political transformations that humanity needs for equity and sustainable development. So, to me, opportunities like this trip are important because they will show in a very practical way some of these complexities to high school students, and hopefully will encourage an optimistic view of the power of collective action.

people walking up a rocky path
Hiking in the Atacama Desert, Chile. Photo: Florian Delée, Unsplash

What do you hope students will gain from this program?

I think the experience of traveling to a different country itself will be enriching. From my own experience, traveling internationally when I was in high school opened my mind in so many ways, and it catalyzed a lot of personal growth. So, I hope the students fully take in the experience of being in a different environment and culture. I hope they challenge themselves to step away from their comfort zones and embrace making new friends and broadening their viewpoints and understanding of the world. Then, I hope they are encouraged to go home and find ways in which they can contribute to making the world a little better in whatever ways also fulfill them. I hope this trip will help them build a sense of purpose.

What do you hope to gain from this program?

I hope to take this as an opportunity to learn from the students, their concerns, and their points of view about these issues. I haven’t taught much, so it will also be a learning opportunity for me to figure out effective methods of teaching these issues in a very practical, applied, and down-to-earth way.

What are you most excited about this summer?

Being out and about with the students, away from my desk for a bit. I love doing fieldwork, and working with people, it’s something different from what I do every day. I’m looking forward to the change of pace, and most importantly, I look forward to chatting with the students, hearing their concerns, and learning from them.

What do you think will be the most influential component of the program?

I think it will be the combination of being in a country with a lot of challenges related to climate change and disasters, while also being encouraged to think about how they can be proactive and purposeful in thinking about solutions and their own role in the world. I hope it can be a very inspirational experience.

Learn more

The Columbia Climate Corps Chile and Argentina program will run from July 22 – August 11, 2023. Begin your application and review application requirements.

Looking for more climate-themed travel programs? We are also holding the Columbia Climate Corps summer program in two more locations:

  • Alaska: Climate Communication and Exploration, July 17 – July 28, 2023
  • IcelandCarbon Capture Technology, July 20 – August 1, 2023

Looking for a campus-based summer program? The Columbia Climate School in the Green Mountains will run from July 2 – July 14, 2023 this summer in Castleton, Vermont.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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