For four years, a group of German educators have been rolling through southern Germany in a mobile eco-lab. Their energy experiments help get young people interested in climate change and sustainability.
Now where did I put the keys? Vera Bellenhaus, of Germany's Catholic Youth Parish (KJG) stands in a parking lot and digs through her purse. She finally finds them buried at the bottom of her bag. The keys are for the bright yellow minibus painted with the "Klimobil," or "climate-mobile" in English. It's a friendly-looking little vehicle, but the real highlights can be found inside and on the roof.
"Along with a group of volunteers, we rebuilt this bus," explained Bellenhaus in an interview with DW. She is a biologist and heads KJG's environment section in Würzburg. "There is a photovoltaic system on the roof. It harvests solar energy, which flows into an extra battery unit under the passenger seat. From this, we can run a disco on a campground or kitchen appliances. But, for the most part, we use the electricity for our experiments," she said.
Hitting the road
KJG's Klimobil is a traveling lab. On board you can experiment with sustainable energy and learn about climate change. With this mobile lab and library, educators like Sascha Zinn travel through northern Bavaria, visiting youth camps, schools and environmental festivals. The Klimobil has already been on the road for four years.
It's KJG's answer to fading interest in their environment education events. "It was getting more difficult to get school groups to come out to the KJG environment center for our workshops. There was hardly any room for this kind of school trip in the curriculum," said Zinn. "So the Klimobil brings the mountain to the prophet. We want to show young people what it means to set the community on the path to sustainability."
The Klimobil offers students a hands-on experience, aimed at getting them excited about environmental issues. On board, the vehicle has materials and equipment for all kinds of different experiments. Students like the energy-cycle. They hop on and pedal as hard as they can, producing enough electricty to power a lightbulb and a radio. They can also build small cars with hydrogen cells. In one popular game, they head out as 'energy detectives' armed with meters to measure electrical currents. This helps them identify the neighborhood's biggest power guzzlers.
"We want the children and youths to try these things out themselves," explained Bellenhaus. "By having these kinds of experiences, they will build an interest in environmental issues that will stick with them right into their adult lives."
The Klimamobil project has done very well locally. The team was awarded 10,000 euros in 2009 for their achievements and has been recognized as an official project of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development two years running. But Sascha Zinn says the team cherishes one achievement above all: When children develop a desire to project the environment after making new discoveries in the Klimobil. "There's one school where the students actualy pushed the administration to switch energy providers after our visit," Zinn said.
At another school, they decided they didn't need to keep the vending machine cool during the summer holidays, since no one would be there. "That's what I see as a success," says Zinn. Then he pulls the door to the Klimamobil shut and hits the road, hoping to get even more students thinking green at the next school.
Author: Jochen Wobser / shc
Editor: Joanna Impey