Long ago, Bernardo Bastién-Olvera got tired of one-way talks that make people feel like they are being “educated.” That’s why he gathered four renowned Mexican geoscientists on a rooftop to casually chat with more than 150 attendees of TierraFest 2023, the biggest Earth sciences festival in Mexico.
The scientists did not deliver endless monologues about why their research will change the world—they laughed as they debunked myths about climate change. They also talked about how climate change does not affect all communities equally and about the many effects this crisis has on women.
In a country facing increasing warming levels, high seismic risk, and a worsening water crisis, bringing the public closer to Earth and climate sciences is a priority. Bastién-Olvera and the rest of the team at Estudios Planeteando know it well. The first TierraFest 2023 events, which included the weeknight rooftop chat with scientists, were held at Mexico City’s Tonala Cinema and event center. The second day of TierraFest was held on Saturday, 6 May, and brought thousands of children, teenagers, researchers, activists, and artists to El Rule Cultural Center in downtown Mexico City.
At El Rule, children played with clays and puzzles of tectonic plates. They maneuvered equipment brought by employees of the National Seismological Service and the National Meteorological Service of Mexico. Others drew tree roots on the ground and wrote what the planet means to them and why they think it is vital to take care of it. Not a single hand remained unoccupied.
The event is what the Planeteando team wanted to achieve when they conceived of TierraFest 3 years ago: an in-person festival that would challenge the institutional and vertical model of traditional science communication events in the country.
This year, more than 55 government agencies, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and research centers partnered to fill El Rule’s three floors with dozens of activities dedicated to showing the importance of Earth’s spheres—the geosphere, the hydrosphere, the biosphere, and the atmosphere—as well as highlighting the climate action efforts that exist in Mexico, which people can join.
“We want to change the narrative of loss. We want to show everything there is to gain if we all walk in the same direction,” said Bastién-Olvera, codirector of Planeteando and a postdoctoral fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
Art, Drag, and Environment
For Raiza Pilatowsky, codirector of Planeteando, challenging preconceived ideas of the science-interested community is as important as challenging the traditional image of scientists themselves.
This year’s TierraFest included the “Dragas por el planeta” show, in which five drag queens engaged in science communication shared the importance and function of Earth’s four spheres.
“Drag…is disruptive, and it’s our tool to reach out to the LGBTQ+ population that exists within the scientific community,” explained Bia Hollis, who runs a social media science communication project dedicated to combatting hate speech within science. “We want those who identify with us to know that their voices are important, to enrich how science addresses the world’s problems,” Hollis said.
To close TierraFest, Planeteando screened the three winning short films of Tierra Filme, a documentary film contest focused on sharing stories of the different ways in which humans and societies relate to rocks, water, air, and biodiversity. As prizes, the winning film crews received cash and advice from professional filmmakers.
Uzu Morales, producer of the first-place documentary Donde Descansa el Mar, said that film is a powerful tool to raise awareness of all the land defense and environmental care efforts that are being made in rural communities throughout Mexico.
For the Planeteando team, the main objective of TierraFest has always been to create spaces for all those interested in life and the planet to interact, regardless of how that interest was awakened. “We want to reflect that in science there are people whose knowledge does not come only from academia, but from their life experiences and from the communities where they grew up,” Pilatowsky said.
—Humberto Basilio (@HumbertoBasilio), Science Writer