Why We Need to Educate Kids About Climate Change
By Julie Dubin
No Barriers Youth Director
I still remember hearing the worry and strife in the elders’ voices as they described the government’s plan to bulldoze through their remote community to build a road.
It was the mid-1980s and I was a teenager on an extended family journey through the Fiji Islands. There in Cawaro, a community then only accessed by boat, villagers lived a traditional Fijian lifestyle. The road led to sandalwood groves that developers wanted to harvest. I felt the community’s helplessness in the face of imposed development.
Even though I had only a surface-level understanding of what they feared losing, I was profoundly moved.
Radical changes were coming and they felt they didn’t have the power to shape their future.
At the same time, I was a teenager who was passionate, indignant and filled with the same feeling of helplessness to do anything.
I decided then that I would dedicate my professional life to making a difference. I felt most passionate about changing the paradigm about how we look at the relationship between people and the environment. I wanted to help educate others about their role and responsibility in this rapidly globalizing conversation.
I wanted to help empower others to use their voice to make a difference.
Just like those village elders could hear the sounds of the mechanized world approaching, our society has been hearing the alarm sirens of climate change sounding for some time.
And many of us feel there’s nothing we can do to stop this runaway train. But this problem, a byproduct of our interconnected, increasingly globalized world, is bigger than our own sense of helplessness.
It spans more than just the environment and society. It spans generations and is challenging on a scale we’ve never seen.
We all contribute. Whether we choose to take an active role in the conversation about climate change or not, we’ll all be responding to it in one way or another, perhaps sooner than we think.
But there’s hope. I believe the solution to climate change lies with our children.
Who better to put their minds to this crisis than a generation raised in our newly globalized world? They don’t know anything but an interconnected world – people working together across boundaries to both create and solve problems.
We can support kids to change the world they’ll be inheriting in a thoughtful and equitable way. They do not need to think of themselves as passive spectators, or victims of choices made by corporations, politicians or others. We can train our future leaders to govern with intention and to proactively address this issue rather than passively reacting.
At No Barriers, we believe the first step in the climate change conversation with kids is to help them understand their role. Know it or not, the choices they make actively contribute to the problem. They are not passive victims of choices others are making.
At first glance, that’s a grim truth. But the flip side is that as they recognize that they are contributing to the problem, they simultaneously realize they have a voice, an influence and a stake in the issue.
As adults, we should not forgive them of their responsibility, nor rob them of their ability to shape this conversation. Kids can be powerful, insightful, innovative and idealistic. We need their fresh perspective, their creative thinking, and interconnected instincts.
We need to hear their voices not only because of the values they hold, but because they must be invested in the solution. As our future leaders, they must internalize this global problem, to understand its relevance to their everyday lives. Most important, they need to feel empowered.
Our leaders have hung their hats on the consumption guidepost that demands, “More is better. Bigger is better.” We need to uproot that guidepost. We need to redefine it based on what we have learned and where we want to go.
In Fiji, I learned that there’s no better way to connect someone with an issue than through personal experience. We truly care about something when we understand its relevance to our lives. It makes it real.
That’s why No Barriers Youth puts students in the vulnerable ecosystems that are most at risk from these changes.
We observe Kenai Fjords National Park’s melting glaciers, interact with turtle nesting beaches in Costa Rica and walk among the sensitive species that call the Peruvian Amazon home. We provide opportunities for them to meet the affected people in these areas and learn how they are working toward creating solutions.
Seeing these places makes it tangible for students who may have never left their neighborhoods. We expand their perspectives and create new horizons that force them to think beyond the “what” of climate change to explore “why” and ultimately, “why should I care?”
They learn creative problem solving, collaboration and strong leadership to arrive at effective and evolving solutions.
We’re confident that students who leave our programs do so with a deep understanding of what is going on and how they fit in. Our students, all students, are able to create change.
But, we can’t do it alone. Start the conversation with your children and help your student reach out to his or her teacher to get involved with our programming.
Future generations will thank you.
October 22, 2014