Last summer, heavy smoke due to wildfires blanketed most of British Columbia, causing thousands of children to grieve over lost months of outdoor activities. This kind of phenomenon impacts the environment and the lives of everyone, and youth are noticing!
In January, the Victoria Times Colonist featured Rebecca Wolf Gage’s actions to combat climate change. As well as joining the movement, “Hands Up For Climate Justice,” becoming vegetarian, and riding public transportation, this grade 7 student at Shoreline Community Middle School has helped arrange for guest speakers on climate change and has organized regular strike action for youth to demonstrate at the BC legislature. Inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who has taken similar actions, Gage stated, “I’m kind of scared, but I’m also really hopeful we will find a solution.” On March 15, thousands of students around the world walked out of school to protest government inaction on climate change. Thankfully, while youth are becoming more proactive, both mainstream media and everyday citizens are not only waking up to the reality of climate disruption, ocean pollution, and other environmental issues, but also talking about them.
Many young people, like Rebecca, already engage in environmental fundraisers, eco-clubs, litter clean-ups, nature gardens, tree planting, and waste-free lunches. They also have proven that they are strong advocates for the environment, with successes in tackling issues such as disposable plastics.
However, if climate change were a mandated topic in the curriculum, so much more could be done! Teachers and homeschoolers could integrate math, science, research, spelling, reading, and art subjects in units of study. Reports on environmental research could be presented to local businesses, city councillors, media, and the school community through an assembly or posted online.
Challenging students to stand up for tackling climate change would develop their public speaking skills and give them confidence in creating a sustainable future for us all. School staffs could choose either to engage in a single project that involves all grades or allow each classroom to undertake its own independent assignment. To cover any expenses, grants such as the Climate Action Fund could be accessed. The World Wildlife Fund – Canada awarded a grant to Ontario’s Rideau Public School which enabled grade 4 teachers Anne Salter and Karen Orgee to explore the negative effects of plastic. Their students learned through hands-on experiences as they toured the city of Kingston’s water treatment facility, then travelled to nearby beaches to help gather litter. “It’s a grant to educate the students about micro-plastics and plastic in general in the oceans, how bad they can be, what the effects are, and what we can do to help clean up,” commented Salter. These classmates also engage in letter writing to share their opinions.
Our individual and collective actions have an environmental carbon footprint and consequences that are now affecting weather patterns commonly referred to as climate change or climate disruption. Students are becoming keenly aware of the causes of environmental degradation and the extreme weather events the world is experiencing, and they are eager to learn methods to reduce the destructive impacts of human activity. Youth are becoming a powerful force and their skills and energy are definitely needed to help save the planet. Without a doubt, teachers and their students will have passionate issues to investigate, such as What causes oceans to warm? and How do we reduce greenhouse gases? The following are a few suggestions that could be developed as cross-curricular units or assignments at all school levels.
• Celebrations and Festivals. Examine the types of items discarded, as well as the use of electricity and water. Students living in areas that host tourist events will have opportunities to conduct local research.
• Clothing. Discover how “Fast Fashion,” washing clothes and using clothes dryers affect the environment, e.g., research how microfibres are affecting the Great Lakes.
• Disposable Diapers. List the chemicals they contain and discover the amount of waste per child they produce annually. Compare the use of cloth and disposable diapers in terms of environmental impacts.
• Idling Vehicles. Report on the impact of idling vehicles. List tips to save fuel. Post anti-idling posters in strategic locations.
• Impacts on wildlife. Select a mammal, insect, or bird and investigate the effects that noise, pollution, pesticides, and/or climate change have on the species’ habitat.
• Environmental Tourism. Look at encouraging environmental tourist stewardship. List eco-travelling tips and sustainability ideas for cruise ships, airplanes, resorts, and hotels. Plan methods to educate visitors to your area.
• Construction Debris. Can a home be recycled? Discover what can be reused or recycled when building, demolishing, or renovating.
• Composting. Research the benefits of recycling organics and returning compost to the soil as opposed to discarding organics in landfills, which creates greenhouse gases and leachate, and wastes resources.
• Agriculture. Study damaging agriculture practices in areas around the world. How are soil and pollinators being affected? How can we help the pollinators?
• Fossil Fuels. Debate the advantages and disadvantages of the energy produced by fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, and wind. Which of these should be government subsidized? List ways to be energy efficient.
• Movies. Examine the influence of movies and advertising. Urge film producers to take environmental responsibility for the images they project through their props, scenery, and graphics.
• The Circular Economy. For students with business and economic interests, explore the new circular economy—an industrial system that is restorative by intention with a focus on eliminating waste. Discover the products that now are being optimized for a cycle of disassembly and reuse.
• Green Products and Practices. Undertake an assignment that highlights businesses who have begun “greening” their products and services.
• Food Waste. Discover the amount of food wasted from farm to fork. Discuss how to be creative with leftovers. Explore the implications of our high rate of meat and dairy consumption.
• Factory Farming. Research the pollution caused by factory farming methods.
• Create Posters. Use climate change as a theme to practise art skills. “Recycle Right – Be A Good Sort” might be a suitable theme to demonstrate your local municipality’s recycling program.
• Mining. A challenging project could be reporting on the toxicity of mine tailings and the research being done to tackle this issue.
• Recycling. Studying the evolution of recycling and how we have amassed so much waste since WW II could serve as a social and history lesson.
A recent study has confirmed that the oceans are warming 40% faster than previously estimated. For the past three decades, interested teachers have organized extracurricular eco-activities; however, imaginative solutions are now needed to tackle our changing climate, making it a concern that should be an integral part of today’s curriculum. Mobilized youth, who can’t afford to lose sight of the bigger picture, have the potential and are proving to be a powerful and influential group of galvanized individuals.
Lead by example! It’s not always what you say to students… students also learn by watching and observing! What will they learn tomorrow?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure books on composting and pollinating. castlecompost.com
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2019 issue.