Climate Change Change Begins at Home (and School)

kid hand with globeby Sarah at ProgressiveKid

A woman I know lives with her family in a house that backs up against a forest. The forest is being clear cut, a not so infrequent occurrence in this part of the country. One day, while the woman was on a business call in the house, her nine-year-old son rounded up his two younger brothers, and the three of them marched out onto the logging road and stood in front of an oncoming logging truck. The truck driver managed to stop in time. At the children’s request, the driver wrote down on a piece of paper the name of the logging company.

The four boys then returned home, and the oldest went to interrupt his mother’s phone call. He told his mother what they had done and said he would keep doing it until she and his father did something to stop what was happening to the planet. He explained to his mother that he and his brothers were the ones who would be living through most of the effects of climate change, but that they needed their parents to help them since they were just children.

The mother got the message. She turned to some friends, and together they formed a climate change response team at their kids’ school. The school now has a series of events and activities planned for the next school year. And they met with some other friends and acquaintances. All of us started Earth Kids Organized (EKO), a networking site and organizational model to help children, parents, and schools and other institutions across the planet communicate and work together to increase their power and effect.

Out of the Mouths of Kids

The point here is that kids know. They already, by age nine and younger, get what is happening, they want to do something about it, and they understand that they need help. But many of our climate change responses are adult centered and exclude kids from the action, which seems downright unfair given that our kids are the ones who are inheriting this situation.

Schools and libraries are logical places to base many kid-focused and kid-led efforts to respond swiftly and effectively to climate change. One elementary school is, at the request of the students, plowing over a grassy play area to make an organic fruit and vegetable garden. A middle school is working with a local organic farm to institute organic lunches one day a week. That same farm is working with local parents to institute organic farming camps for kids this summer. At another middle school library, students have formed one club to care for injured and homeless animals and another club to help the school compost. Two students at this school are making a documentary about the decline of a salmon stream.

Efforts like EKO are important because they expand the reach of children beyond the narrow confines of their own institutions and link children in a wider area, giving them a greater sense of hope and community. Families too need to feel that their efforts are not isolated and unique to their own homes. Joining other families in school- or community-based efforts can give everyone a sense of empowerment and even relief that people are responding appropriately to this crisis.

Five Kid-Sized Steps

Lowering your carbon emissions is important but it is just as important to involve your children in climate change conversation, research, and wider action. Consider taking the following steps at home and at school or the library with your children:

  1. Read together about climate change. Look for Julie‘s upcoming book A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids (Green Goat Books, August 2007) as a good place to start. Be sure to talk about what you have read.
  2. Create a culture of empathy toward all living things. Don’t kill spiders and flies. Relocate them outside if necessary using a bug vac. Don’t use toxic cleaning or lawn care products. Talk about and look for evidence of the animals, plants, and trees that share the space where you live. Turn your yard or school grounds into a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
  3. Get involved in something bigger. Help your kids start or join a climate change response team at their school or other local insitution.
  4. Get involved in something even bigger. Join EKO or another environmental group with a broad focus. The Internet is a great tool for this level of networking.
  5. Socialize with similarly engaged people. Your kids need to feel like they’re not alone in their concerns for and work for the planet. Make sure that at least some of what you do in response to climate change is social. Picnics, potlucks, and informational fairs can make this uneasy business something that we and our children can live with better and more healthfully.

We’re not protecting our children from anything by keeping them out of the business of responding to global warming. They already know and they’re worried. The ways to ease their anxiety are (1) to show them that we are doing something about it and (2) to involve them. Besides, some of the most creative people I know are kids—maybe the answers to many of the planet’s problems rest in some smaller-sized hands.

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