Penguins at the UN

On May 4, 2007, ten students from the High School for Environmental Studies (HSES) in New York performed the climate change musical revue "Penguins on Thin Ice" at the United Nations for the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). (Click here for links to YouTube videos.) The performance, an official CSD side event, took place at 9:45 am in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium. The show was arranged and conducted by Sharon Abreu, co-producer of “Penguins on Thin Ice”, executive director of Irthlingz arts-based environmental education 501(c)(3), and member of the UN-CSD Trade Union, Energy and Education Caucuses. The performance came as the CSD completed its two-year focus on air pollution, industrial development, climate change, and energy for sustainable development.

Co-sponsors of the event included three of the CSD's "Major Groups": the Trade Union, Indigenous and Youth Major Groups, as well as the Earth Values Caucus of the UN-CSD, and the Alliance of Small Island States.

There were also performances of the show at HSES on May 3 at 9 am.

Sharon worked with HSES chorus director Georgia DeFalco to prepare the students for the performance. Geoff Hockert of Friends of the High School for Environmental Studies also greatly facilitated the enterprise. HSES is an inner-city culturally diverse public high school in New York City.

This was the second time HSES students have performed for the CSD. On May 9, 2006, 18 students from HSES sang four songs from "Penguins on Thin Ice" at a Youth Caucus meeting during the UN-CSD. Delegates of all Major Groups and Caucuses to the UN-CSD were invited and encouraged to attend. There were people of all ages, from many parts of the world, representing different caucuses, though most were from the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and Trade Union Major Groups.

Sharon met Geoff Hockert at a Go Green Initiative school recycling conference in California. She gave Geoff information on “Penguins on Thin Ice”. Geoff thought the students in the high school chorus would love to perform the show. Since they met on the last weekend of March 2006, there wasn’t enough time to prepare the whole show. They agreed to present four songs in 2006 and plan a performance of the complete show for 2007.

In 2006, the students had only two-and-a-half weeks to rehearse and memorize the songs. They did a great job and were rewarded with an enthusiastic standing ovation. The small packed conference room was buzzing after they sang. People were saying "You should go sing in the Vienna Cafe!" (a popular area where the government delegates go to eat, talk and smoke). Although it wasn't possible to get permission to sing in the Vienna Cafe while meetings were going on around it, all involved were appreciative of the opportunity to sing for delegates to this annual international Earth Summit.

The students were excited to sing at the UN, and they got a taste of what it was like to participate with a vibrant Youth Caucus at the international level. Stephen Schwartz of the youth organization SustainUS spoke with the students about getting involved in the UN process.

After the students sang “Titanic Island”, a song which addresses the threats to the small island developing states (SIDS) from global warming and rising sea levels due to melting ice shelves, a woman from the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu stood up with tears in her eyes and thanked Sharon and the students for bringing their struggle to light through music. Sharon gave her a CD of the songs from “Penguins on Thin Ice” to take home to Vanuatu, a country made up of four main islands and 80 smaller islands. One of its island communities has had to be evacuated due to flooding from sea level rise.

In 2006, the UN performance was co-sponsored by the Youth, Trade Union and Indigenous Major Groups and the Energy and Education Caucuses of the UN-CSD.

"The students did an amazing job. They were a joy to work with and I am privileged to have had the chance to work with them," said Sharon.

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