What do kids these days care about? Information, opportunity, seeking knowledge and truth are now literally at their fingertips. The Internet provides networks and connection like never seen before. Empowered youth have always played a role in the large movements of our history. The movement to care for our planet is no different.
At the People’s Climate March in New York City this year, where 400,000 people walked through the city streets to demand climate action from the world’s leaders, young adults were a big part of the rally. Universities, high schools and youth organizations across the country connected via social media to organize travel to NYC and attend the march or marched in solidarity on their own streets.
At the 25th annual Bioneers conference that I attended this year, there was a record attendance of youth. The younger presenters made sure they were heard, and described to the audience what they cared about. Fourteen-year-old indigenous environmental activist and rapper Xiuhtezcatl Martinez addressed the audience with fervor and confidence, saying, “all life is sacred, each and every one of us is connected to not only one another, but to the world around us. The issues and the crisis we are facing on our planet are affecting our local communities.” Chloe Maxmim spoke about how starting her own divestment movement at Harvard started as 10 people in a room, but now in its third year, 70,000 people have joined her campaign. Finally, there was nothing that got the crowd more pumped up and energized than the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company’s original work of drama and dance. They lit up the room and got their message across that using reusable bags would help rid the world of plastic vampires!
Youth are finding their voices in the climate action movement all over the country. Several organizations like the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), are helping to educate kids in high school on climate change issues and are connecting them to ways they can make a difference in their lives and communities. ACE believes young people have the most to lose when it comes to climate change, and the most to gain by fighting it. I attended an assembly that was put on by ACE at Oakland High. Fast paced and engaging, an expert presenter got straight to the point with the kids, connecting the dots on how their actions effect our planet. The students in the auditorium were 200 out of the 1.8 million students that ACE has reached.
It is the success we’ve seen today with this work that makes environment-based education (EBE) so important. Youth have shown that they care about their communities, their cities, and their planet. Here in California the increase of natural disasters, the drought and wildfires effect our youth. Ensuring that they have a context to understand these issues everyday in the classroom is crucial. EBE, coupled together with the work of non-profits like ACE, are essential to giving youth the tools they need to protect the future of our planet.
Ariel Whitson, Development Associate, has a background in finance, administration and event planning. She has over five years of experience working with nonprofits. Ariel started her career at the United Nations Association San Diego and Free the Slaves. She later served as a project coordinator at University Research Co., LLC in Washington D.C., where she oversaw the finance and administration of a $65 million USAID tuberculosis project in South Africa. She is passionate about working with youth, and spent a few years working as a tutor and camp counselor.