BGCA’s Yetta Robinson is back with ways to get youth thinking about what they can do to protect the planet.
This post isn’t a call for fear. It’s facing a reality that many youth have already come to realize: we have some environmental problems that will take all of us to help solve. Carbon emissions are increasing global temperatures. The overexploitation of land is accelerating the loss of biodiversity. Wildlife trafficking is impacting species stability, and pollution is impacting human health. While this is not a mess young people created, it is one they will inherit.
In January 2021, the Peoples’ Climate Vote released results from the largest public opinion poll on climate change ever administered. Over 500,000 responses were from youth under 18, and over 60% of them said they believe climate change is an emergency. We are all a part of the natural world and the global community. We cannot continue to silo or ignore environmental issues if we are truly concerned about equity, justice, and the overall health and well-being of people. So how do we, as youth professionals, show up and engage youth in the conservation conversation?
Build empathy for nature by implementing environmental education programming.
Developed in partnership with the National Park Service, BGCA’s Ultimate Journey features age-appropriate modules that introduces youth ages 9- to 13-year-olds to environmental stewardship, though activities can be used for both younger and older members. It includes fun, experiential, environmental education activities that cultivate an awareness and appreciation of the natural world.
Action Item: Check out the Ultimate Journey curriculum, watch the Ultimate Journey Program Overview video recording, and choose an activity to run at your Club!
Be willing to have tough conversations.
It may sound cliché, but honesty really is the best policy. Be transparent about environmental problems plaguing our ecosystems and how these issues impact wildlife and people.
Action Item: Research and present current and accurate information about an environmental issue and lead a discussion. Consider having older youth do this and present to the group, but be sure they are using factual sources. Ask youth to share their thoughts while exploring the following questions: what is the issue, what are the causes, who is most impacted by this issue, and what are ways we all can help?
Encourage conservation activism.
Greta Thunberg set off a firestorm with her environmental advocacy. Mari Copeny held nothing back as she forced us all to take note of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and ultimately, across the country. There is no age limit to being a conservation steward. Encourage youth to learn about the world around them and discover ways they can help support their local ecosystems.
Action Item: Have youth choose an environmental topic that they are passionate about and have them lead a campaign or event. They can organize a recycling and donation drive or community clean up, repurpose old items into new games to play with peers, create gardens, put up birdhouses or insect hotels, or start a composting station at their Club!
Set good examples.
One of the most difficult things about this work is assessing our own personal relationship with the natural world and the daily decisions we make. If we can recycle an item instead of sending it to the landfill, do we? If we can walk or take public transportation instead of drive, do we? There are small steps we can take to make a difference. Showing youth that we, as adults and professionals, are willing to make positive changes can help build empathy and inspire younger generations to be conservation savvy.
Action Item: Start small! Think about your everyday actions and answer the following questions to get you started on your journey to go green:
- Do I shop sustainably and use reusable items such as water bottles and shopping bags?
- Do I have recycling bins at home and at my Club? Is there a recycling center in my community?
- Do I turn off electrical appliances and lights when I leave the room?
While many of these issues require strong public policy, better environmental practices from corporations, and international collaboration, it is important that individuals and communities begin building resiliency by becoming more sustainable. We all have a role to play in ensuring we are protecting our planet and leaving a healthy world for future generations to inhabit. So, in preparation for summer, consider ways you can get outdoors, protect our ecosystems, and encourage youth to do the same!
Also, check out the Ultimate Journey contest on MyFuture running from April 10th- May 19th!
Contest Details: Learning about the world around you and sharing that information is one of the best things you can do to help the environment. Encourage youth to complete the “Ecosystem Heroes” activity on MyFuture. Clubs with at least 10 submissions will be entered into a raffle for a chance to win an amazing Outdoor Exploration Kit. Two winners will be chosen. Items include reference books, skull replicas, binoculars, a wildlife trail camera, and more! Contest runs from April 10-May 19. Projects must be approved by staff through the MyFuture Staff Dashboard by 11:59PM ET on May 19 to qualify.
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