At a recent presentation, I was asked to help equip the elementary school audience with tools to assist in their mental wellness. I did an activity where students identify what part of their world is making them feel ‘out of control’, and then together we create a Today List (Not a to-do list) so they can begin to take steps to regain a sense of control. I generally hear about challenges at recess, with teachers or homework or maybe some difficulty in the family or neighbourhood. Not this time. This time students really caught me off guard and shared some really heavy concerns that keep these kids up at night: “deforestation”, “all the animals are going extinct”, “global warming” & finally, “fitting in”. Needless to say….I felt stuck and was unsure of what to do next.
Why are kids today so stressed out about climate change? Why were these kids worrying about something that seemed to me to be so far away from their 8 to 12 year old world? Regardless of why, it felt familiar. It reminded me of when I was growing up, and I would learn about a particular topic or injustice and then never let it go. When I was in elementary school, I was raised on cartoons like Captain Planet, The Smoggies, The Racoons & Care Bears. The protagonists are largely animals or activists, and the plots are always fighting against corruption or greed to save the planet. These cartoons created a generation, my generation, this current generation, of teachers and young adults who are literally petrified of what climate change and global warming are doing to the planet. My sense of responsibility and my almost frantic urge to do something about it can leave me feeling overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of inaction. This paralysis is aggravated when I hear about whales dying with over 50 pounds of plastic found in their bellies. It gets worse when I hear about caribou being eliminated or going extinct. I think about it when I wait at the bus stop and watch all the single occupant vehicles chugging by. I think about it when I hear reports the Canada’s climate is warming way too fast. I understand why these children are so stressed about the future of our planet; it’s because we were raised to.
On March 15, 2019, inspired by Greta Thunberg, 2,233 student led climate change rallies occurred. In the US alone, over 100,000 participants showed up to support the message of climate action. That is a movement. That is inspiring. I am reminded of other young voices like Autumn Peltier who recently won the World Water Warrior Award (alongside Grandmother Josephine Mandamin) who are beautiful representations of First Nations worldview that “water is life”. But are the systems and decision makers listening?? Do they see this movement as a temporary inconvenience or as the leaders of today that they truly are?? Maybe if people didnt want us to be climate warriors, they shouldn’t have made those types of cartoons. But its too late for that. We are all water warriors & we are here to save the world.
I am inspired by those cartoons I watched as a kid. I am inspired by warriors like Greta Thunberg & Autumn Pelltier. Its exciting that the role models of today are so relatable, so current, so action oriented and so relentless. We have to show all the kids (& kids at heart) out there that we are just as serious as they are about saving this planet, about addressing climate change.
What did I say to those students with their list of climate disaster related concerns? We made a list, one for each item, and here are our 4 actions those students and all students can take today:
- Plant a tree (or plant hundreds of trees lol)
- Select an endangered animal and do your research on what’s being done so far or how you can help
- Start a global warming education campaign in your school sharing facts as well as everyday actions people can take
- If the group you need to doesn’t exist….create it!
That was a list for elementary school kids. You are all welcome to borrow from it and take all of those actions yourself today too. But if you hold any type of influence or power, please know that we expect your list of actions to be proportionate to your capacity. We cannot continue to live our lives as if there will be no consequence down the line. We as adults and decision makers now have a responsibility to demonstrate that there is a reason to be hopeful, that there is institutional hope.
What are you gonna say to your grand kids when they ask what you did to protect the earth? Let’s hope we still have a pristine environment, clean water, breathable air and a healthy planet to hand off to them. Let’s make sure we can tell them a story that they can be proud of, that their ancestors made some hard choices so that they could live a good life on a clean and healthy planet