We are all increasingly focused on taking ecological and ethical steps to create a better world. In recent years, we have even seen a rise in the attention each new generation is placing upon the health of the environment. Whether due to additional coverage on the subject, or the urgency of the situation, we are seeing more kids and young adults getting involved in environmental activism.
Their increased engagement certainly makes a lot of sense — the planet they will be inheriting is already in a state of emergency, and under significant threat of being damaged beyond repair. It is vital then that more children should get involved with environmental activism at an early age, and gain the tools they need not only to act now but also to become positive and effective civic leaders of their communities in the future.
So, how best to help kids gain a greater enthusiasm for getting involved in social and economic projects? What can we use to introduce young people to the tools they need, and empower them to make changes themselves? Let’s take a look at some key areas of focus.
Getting kids excited about environmental activism has to begin by introducing them to the reasons why it is important for them to get involved at all. This means educating them in a way that not only resonates with them, but gives them both information and skills to move forward. This doesn’t have to take place primarily in the classroom — it should be a joint effort between formal educators and the community.
It can of course be tempting to educate them using the urgency of the situation. The figures are certainly alarming; one United Nations Environmental Project (UNEP) report showed that 4.3 million people die annually as a result of household pollution. However, while there is value to be had in honesty, parading such huge numbers can be both overwhelming and scary. Rather, providing knowledge about the state of the planet should also be coupled with information about what the causes are, and how individuals and communities can take practical steps to mitigate problems.
Framing this information as a series of projects can be particularly useful in this area, and can help to bridge school and home efforts. Teachers can use math lessons to show kids how to calculate their home’s monthly energy usage, and introduce them to how devices and user behavior contribute to this consumption. Kids can then work with their families to find ways to reduce their usage, in small but no less impactful ways.
We are living in an increasingly technologically enhanced and reliant world. Not to mention that digital co-operation in green technology policies is becoming a political focus. Generation Z is the first wave of digital natives, and as such they — and the generations that follow — are almost innately comfortable with technology. It can therefore be useful to encourage environmental activism through the lens of tools with which they already have a deep affinity.
This can include:
- Software and Apps. Introduce them to tech resources that can help them to effectively monitor and improve the environment. Pollution is a prime example of this; the app shows the air quality in local and international areas, along with the potential causes of the pollutants in water, soil, and industries. Show how these can be used to guide improvements, and to inform the best directions for their activism.
- Social Media. Whether you like it or not, social media is the key communication tool of the rising generations. Help them to use it safely and creatively. Encourage them to create content such as YouTube videos, podcasts, and blog posts. Perhaps most importantly, help them find reliable sources of information so that they can make their items both creative and factually robust.
- Responsible Device Use. A recent joint agency report highlighted that technology can be a double-edged sword in protecting the environment. It posits that frontier technologies can help enable and drive change, but they can also be problematic in terms of energy inefficiency and e-waste. While demonstrating to kids that their devices can be used to connect them to information and opportunities, also show that they have a responsibility to identify and reduce wasteful electronic behavior.
Activities in the Community
As of late, there have been several high profile young activists to take to the global stage. Greta Thunberg, in particular, has been valuable both as an inspiring figure, but also to demonstrate that kids are never too young to make a difference. That said, it’s important for kids to understand that not all activism is huge. They can often make the biggest impact by starting in their own community.
Encourage kids to form small groups that focus on regular sustainable activities that both serve the environment and have a positive impact on the local area. Have them use home or community garden space to create green gardening activities; invite neighbors to use shared composting facilities, plant flowers around the neighborhood that attract vital pollinators, harvest rainwater to reduce consumption. Most importantly, have them lead the way on these activities. Like 13-year-old Aditya Mukaraji, who personally visited local cafes and restaurants to persuade them to stop using plastic straws.
Another approach is to keep a calendar of formal activism opportunities. Make a note of dates such as Earth Day or the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. Show them where they can access information about events, and take them to protests, marches, and community clean-ups. Where possible, encourage kids to bring their friends along too — it’s much more fun and motivating if they’re able to share these experiences. They can gain inspiration from these events, and from there they can continue to be involved or even help arrange community activities of their own.
While we all have a responsibility to the environment, our kids have far more at stake than we do. Help them to protect the planet they’ll inherit through activism. With robust education, use of technological tools, and engagement with community activities you can help build enthusiasm that will help to motivate them to change the course of the future.