A Livable Future: Encouraging Youth to Embrace Environmentalism

This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

With Earth Day, Arbor Day, and other similar celebrations coming up, April is all about “going green.” With appropriate support and training, youth can be leaders in the movement to help our environment. In fact, many concerned young people in our community are already finding ways to actively preserve our planet.

“Honestly, we adults should be doing everything possible to listen to young people and to ensure, as best as we can, a livable future for them,” said Jim Poyser, executive director of Earth Charter Indiana. He added that “adults can be models for young people to live a less wasteful life.”

The Earth Charter, according to Poyser, was created to “find the intersections between poverty, racism, and democratic transparency (or lack thereof) – all within the context of the climate crisis.” Earth Charter Indiana focuses on climate issues by offering education in schools, working with young people on sustainability projects, hosting climate camps, and teaching leaders about climate issues.

Encouraging Youth to Embrace EnvironmentalismPoyser said that much of Earth Charter Indiana’s programming for young people is designed to teach them about systems thinking, problem-based learning tactics, and leadership skills. From projects such as zero-waste cafeterias, no-idling programs, and youth-led Climate Recovery Resolution initiatives, Poyser has seen quite a bit of success.

“Thus far, three Indiana cities have passed Climate Recovery Resolutions, led by young people: Carmel, Lawrence, and Indianapolis,” said Poyser. “This project is in various stages in a handful of other Indiana cities. The outcome we hope for is an engaged, intergenerational, grassroots population working through municipal government channels to, together, bring climate change out of the closet and into the scary light. We can address our twin crises of environment and civics, simultaneously.”

Youth should care about the environment around them for a number of reasons, according to The Nature Conservancy’s Melissa Moran, director of community programs, and Emily Davidson, AmeriCorps member for education and outreach.

“Our natural world not only provides the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the soils in which we grow our food,” said Moran and Davidson. “It also provides a place for the mind and spirit to rest and habitats for countless other species of plants, animals, fungi, and more with whom we share space. Being disconnected from our natural world means that we are not directly observing the effects that humans have on the environment that sustains us. By spending time in parks or on nature adventures, learning about environmental topics, and participating in ‘going green’ projects, youth can grow in their knowledge about the natural world, learn how life depends on it, and be inspired to care for nature. Spending time in nature has also been scientifically proven to be better for kids’ health, their ability to pay attention in school, and their overall well-being.”

The Nature Conservancy protects many of Indiana’s natural areas. In 2016, The Nature Conservancy partnered with Cope Environmental Center, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the Indiana Department of Education to create The Children of Indiana Nature Park, an area of land in Wayne County that allows students to claim “Nature IN-Deed certificates” to own and care for a piece of the park.

According to Moran and Davidson, The Children of Indiana Nature Park offers “hope that reconnecting kids to nature will instill a sense of wonder about the natural world, help to improve health and well-being, and, ultimately, inspire a desire to conserve and protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. When we care for nature, nature cares for us.”

They continued, saying, “Those who spend more time outside seem to develop a personal connection to the natural world and ultimately want to do more to protect it. Unfortunately, due to fully-scheduled lifestyles and increased access to technology, children today are spending less time in nature than past generations. In fact, only 10 percent of children grow up playing in natural areas, compared to 40 percent of children just a generation ago [according to The Guardian]. While there is a growing disconnect between kids and the outside world, enabling kids to spend time in nature has a positive effect on their desire to care for nature as adults.”

Poyser has some ideas for youth who want to make their schools and homes more eco-friendly.

Encouraging Youth to Embrace Environmentalism“Live local, love local, and reject all forms of single item use (whether that’s plastic or big items like cars),” said Poyser. “Grow your own food. Waste as little as possible. Ride a bike.”

Moran and Davidson agreed, adding, “Kids can learn how simple, everyday actions can have very positive impacts on our natural resources and animal species. For example, kids can help reduce the amount of plastics in our waterways by going ‘straw free’ and reduce carbon emissions by asking their parents not to leave cars running while parked. To care for nature, young people can create a pollinator garden at their school, help identify and remove invasive plant species from their home properties, or volunteer to pick up trash in their neighborhood.”

For youth who want to take on bigger challenges, Poyser, Moran, and Davidson have more ideas.

“Zero waste school cafeterias are a great way to tackle a big project,” said Poyser. “Start a green or eco-club at your school to do that, or anything related to green action. Or, get engaged with local elected officials. Meet your mayor, your city councilor, or your state representative and senator; let them know you want a future, and their job should be protecting that future.”

“Kids can volunteer at their local park to maintain a trail, remove invasive plants, plant trees, or pick up trash,” said Moran and Davidson. “In Marion County, Holliday Park Nature Center, Eagle Creek Nature Center, and the Marian University EcoLab all offer opportunities and programs for kids to engage and help care for the land.”

For more ideas and information on this topic, the following resources have been recommended:

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