Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I am sometimes asked what it takes to build an intuitive relationship to the planet in our kids. In answer, I say that a rapport with the world around us, with nature, an intuitive understanding of the interconnectedness of everything is something all of us are born with; it is innate. The goal for parents then is to foster it, to keep this sense of oneness, wholeness, alive in our children. The challenge is not to teach our kids how to be environmentally aware, but rather to avoid teaching them not to be. Honor their inborn wisdom, and speak truthfully to them about the challenges that confront our species, our planet, our future.
“It’s a very exciting time to be a young person. You live at a thrilling moment in history; a time when, because we must, we will transform our species’ relationship to our environment. We are changing the way we think about and use our natural resources, because our beautiful, ailing planet is telling us we must do this, now, right away. So we will; we already are. And it is you, your generation, who are the ones to push, pull, drag and carry humankind into a thoroughly new way of relating to our Earth. Planet Earth; our only home.
You are learning hard lessons from the mistakes and wrong choices of your parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and with this hard-won knowledge you can build a life-sustaining civilization; a future for you and your children that is cleaner, quieter, safer and saner. We have all been trained, well-trained, to be wasteful, to consume far more than we need. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
This is how I begin the presentations I give to schoolchildren on the subject of climate change. I am among the 1,000 speakers trained in Nashville in January 2007 by Al Gore and the faculty of The Climate Project to adapt and present the slide show on which the film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was based. I’ve presented the program 27 times since then; a great majority of the audiences have been young people, from fourth graders to college students. I alert these young people that during the program we will journey together through waste and destruction, doom and despair, and I promise them that we will come to hope, optimism, inspiration, ingenuity and determination. I tell them that our species has a fierce will to live, that our survival mechanisms are embedded in our DNA and are fabulously strong, that we humans will find ways out of the mess we have gotten our species and our planet into.
I do not talk down to them. Kids are not stupid. Kids are under-respected, under-estimated, under-utilized; and they are the future. These kids know their world is in trouble, and they don’t want to be encouraged not to think about it. They want to get busy, get down to the do-or-die business of addressing the crises facing their Earth; they want to shake from their shoulders the yoke of their elders’ inefficient, wasteful consumerist ways that threaten our planet’s air, waters, soils, flora and fauna.
We were taught in Nashville to help listeners avoid leaping from denial to despair without stopping to do something about it. That turns out to be much more of a challenge with adult audiences than with the young. Kids just want to know what they can do to fix the problems. The kids I’ve told the climate change story to have immediately taken action to start recycling programs in their schools, to insist their parents switch to efficient light bulbs, even to ask the local Mayor if he thinks our Village is doing enough to protect the environment.
Knowledge is power. I encourage us all to honor our fears, acknowledge lurking despair, and then set that aside while we tell it like it is to our children. Kids are tough, resilient, incredibly wise, smart and creative. They will surprise us. They will keep us honest, and remind us to do the small things each day that make a difference. They are not afraid. They are determined. We do ourselves and our planet and our young a colossal disservice if we let our own fears get in the way of clear thinking, if we think that protecting them from harsh realities is doing them or any of us a favor.
An accepted pedagogical benchmark recommends “No tragedies before fourth grade.” That sounds about right to me. For the younger kids, simply modeling mindful practices without getting too far into the implications is a good way to go. But as soon as they begin to ask questions, about drowning polar bears, or too-warm winters, take a deep breath and tell them what we’re up against, and where we need to go from here. Tell them all the things you’ve done and are trying to do in your home, your workplace, your community and with your dollars and your vote. Keep them empowered, let them grow up knowing they can change the world with the countless daily actions and choices that are well within their power.
Enlightened choice in the marketplace is how markets will be redirected toward greener, sustainable production. As we adults now begin to question the push to consume that is the cornerstone of our industrial growth society, we can talk with our children about being conscious consumers. Grow a next generation that assumes the need for efficiency and smart use of resources.
And as parents, remember simple strategies to help our youngest global citizens stay attuned to the whole of the planet. Take them out into nature. Look closely with them at the infinite variety of life that surrounds us. Listen to their joy and wonder. Let them teach us to see and appreciate and take better care of our beautiful, fragile world.
Sara Gordon is the founder of Greener Days, a green coaching and buying service assisting businesses and homeowners with reduction of ecological footprints. Sara is a LEED® Accredited Professional through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program. She is also one of 1,000 North American Climate Ambassadors of The Climate Project and trained with Al Gore, in a team of educators and scientists, to educate citizens on environmentalism. For more information on Greener Days go to www.greenerdays.net