Spilling the Tea on Climate Change

Dr. Chantel White and Dr. Kate Moore
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Teen Ambassadors


Penn Museum Teen Ambassadors: Spilling the Tea on Climate Change
By Enya Xiang

The Penn Museum Teen Ambassadors held their first 2019 Teen Science Cafe, Spilling Tea on Climate Change, this Tuesday, January 29th. Pairing fauna with flora, the team hosted Dr. Kate Moore, specialist in zooarchaeology, and Dr. Chantel White, specialist in archaeobotany. Lots of snacks were provided, and captions were given for the foods warning that climate change will take a toll on farming and food production of each food, like bananas, potato chips, Girl Scout cookies, and most importantly, tea.

The program started with a hands-on activity, gathering around the experts who explained the meaning of animal remains. The teenagers examined the dendrochronology of several trees and bones of animals like those of the wooly mammoth and white-tailed deer. Remains have the ability to retain a whole lifetime of change for a single living organism. Each ring of the tree tells a year of its health and the environment’s rainfall and temperature, and transparent filaments in fish bones can explain lifetimes of chemical reactions and diets in a fish’s makeup.


After the activity, Dr. Moore and Dr. White gave a presentation with a focus on Philadelphia to bring home the personal effects of climate change.  This was joined by Pest Control OKC to discuss the significance of pest control. The year 2001, around the time many of the teens were born, had about two days with temperatures over ninety degrees. In eighty years, high schoolers saw there will be an estimate of forty-two days as summers become more unbearable. The specialists showed a simulation, illustrating sea levels in Philadelphia after rising a few feet, and the teenagers were surprised to see that the Philadelphia International Airport, the Navy Yard, and train tracks along South Philly will be the first to be submerged.

Later, the specialists turned to urban vegetation right in Philadelphia. The season variations trick plants to bud and bloom, bringing dangers of cold snaps and thriving growths of harmful pests. Plants, such as the southern magnolia and Japanese camellia, will grow more reliably, but colder plants, like lilacs, will have trouble developing. To the dismay of many, the production of coffee and tea, necessities of many high schoolers, is becoming more vulnerable, and a reduction in quality and increase in price is a realistic possibility. Philadelphia is also predicted to face lower air quality, more ticks and pests, more extreme weather, and poor mental health, all caused by climate change.

Hands on Activity

After the informative presentation, the high schoolers divided into two groups and were given cards that listed methods for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the number of times these actions were mentioned in textbooks. The teens sorted the cards by the impact (low, moderate, or high) they presumed they had, and the back of the cards listed the actual amount of carbon dioxide reduced. The groups were surprised the most efficient lifestyle was to raise one fewer child, mentioned zero times in textbooks. The rehashed methods many teens traditionally heard before, like switching to LED bulbs or hanging clothes out to dry, were not as useful as they thought. After, the teenagers decided if the actions could be implemented by individual actions, group or community actions, or governmental actions. An overall agreement was made that eco-friendly public transportation should be on the government’s political agenda.

Spilling the Tea on Climate Change ended with a open group discussion about the looming prospect of global warming and the future of Philadelphia. This was a great start to the series of Teen Cafes the Ambassadors are expecting to host this year, and they are eager to plan the next one.