Here I am, back in the Pacific Wonderland! Just as I left it.. rainy!
Since I was home, the inevitable question came up: “So what are you going to do next year?” My, my, my…dear friends, the honest truth is I’m not quite sure. But I have come to re-examine “success” and “careers” and all that usually goes along with such buzzwords. Today, I was planning writing activities for middle schoolers that they could write on paper that wouldn’t run in the rain and tomorrow I could be helping with a grant to allow students and their teachers to receive fantastic water quality testing equipment. That’s not quite what I imagined a job to be like when we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. To be perfectly honest, I gave an answer along the lines of a dolphin trainer or a marine biologist in the Galapagos. Things I’d read about and thought would be wonderful ways to spend time and fifteen years later, here I am working with students to help them understand the importance of being environmental stewards. Not far off from those “fun” jobs I dreamed about when I was in third grade. But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t aware of the effect of jobs like these on the environment around me…
I was reading an article today that my coworker gave me called Leave No Child Inside by Richard Louv, the author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. As I clicked through this and other articles, I came across an interesting word: ecophobia. David Sobel of the Center for Place Based Education at the Antioch New England Institute defines it as “the debilitating fear for the future of the environment.”
When young children and teenagers were asked about how they felt about the future of the environment, many gave exasperated answers of not being able to change anything and therefore, little action was taken on their parts. If our children are not exposed to the outdoors from a young age, how will they appreciate what is left of it? Electronic entertainment, longer school hours, “stranger danger” and other factors seem to inhibit a child’s opportunity for outdoor play. So instead of running around in the fresh air after school until its dark and your mom “lets” you in the house (the way my parents’ generation grew up) our children are under a house arrest of some sort. Because they aren’t getting out and playing, they are more apt to become one of 25 million children, or one-third of the US’s kids, who is overweight and at risk for any number of illnesses or experience stress-related injuries. Studies by environmental psychologists (who knew?) have shown that there is a decrease in attention deficit disorder symptoms in children when they are engaged in nature and outdoor schools have shown that students’ all-around test scores increase dramatically when they are connected with nature.
So what does all of this mean for us? It is certainly overwhelming for us to see natural disasters occurring everywhere we turn and to see energy and climate policies getting smacked down by Congress. But to a child, the world is much more simple. Or, it used to be. We don’t need to hold back on depressing news; we need to widen the conversation and engage ourselves, our peers, our children in actions everyday that are mindful of our limited resources. Birke Baehr is an example of one child who gets that the world around him is an amazing place but the product of a broken system and is doing something about it.
We must heed that warning of leaving no child inside and reconnect our families with nature and the amazing world around us. Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, challenges people to take real action, to create a real movement, to make concern for the environment necessary, to make corporations take some real responsibility. This doesn’t mean shopping at Whole Foods and driving a Prius. It means taking stock of what you value in your life and determine effect all of these material things have on the greater good of our world; how much would you pay for a banana if all the true costs were included? Its not as simple as buying some tomatoes in August from your farmers’ market. A revolution is needed, a movement that is alive and moving.
We can no longer sit back and have hope that someone else will take care of what is unfolding at warp speed all around us. We are the stakeholders, we are the change makers. We should be outraged at what is happening to our planet and its resources. Make some waves, ask some questions. Think of your childhood and how different it would be without campouts, laying in the grass, climbing trees, running with a kite…
“One does not act rightly toward one’s fellows of one does not know how to act rightly toward the Earth.”
-Liberty Hyde Bailey