How to promote environmentalism among students?

Humans are facing the most challenging issue since the start of our history: climate change and the loss of biodiversity. There is no need to emphasize the urgency of such issue, but there is, however, the necessity to discuss one key issue: how to promote environmentalism among the new generation? How to encourage students to protect the environment in an era that lots of people are just too lazy to care about the environment?

In this blog, I will attempt to at least partially answer this question by talking about an event that happened two days ago, which inspired me to write this post.

The problem with traditional activism

My high school successfully hosted its annual SPEAK event on December 13th. During this day, teachers and students from elementary school to high school could join different workshops to participate in different activities. The main purpose of this day was to provide a platform for the community to share different ideas and passions.

During the event, the topic of climate change was mentioned again and again. The keynote speaker of the event was a young environment activist who organized the first major environment protests in Buenos Aires. She talked strongly about how we should all make changes for the sake of ourselves. She presented data about how much water will be saved if one person becomes vegetarian. She presented examples of animals in danger of extinction. She was indignant at the fact that she had to skip school to organize these protests. It was an excellent speech: she did all the things that would have been done to convince a person to make a change.

The real question is, how many students are convinced? How many of us actually made a change after hearing the speech? I used to hear these kinds of tirades all the time, but I was never shaken enough to take action. In fact, I would be surprised if more than ten percent of the listeners decided to make a change for the better.

This kind of activism is ineffective not because it does not provide a logically convincing argument. In fact, quoting the words of Jamie Barlett, “of all the movements deserving of attention in the twenty-first century, climate-change activists have arguably the most persuasive casus belli.” The root of the problem comes from the fact that few students have a physical understanding of the environments around them.

An indirect solution

My friend and I led a bird watching workshop during the event, with a purpose of creating a meaningful connection with the environment. To my surprise, it turned out to be quite a popular choice: 40 teachers and students participated in the two sessions. I will let my co-presenter Pedro summarize the experience:

“I went into the workshop expecting to learn about birdwatching, simply what it is and how to start. What I learnt was so much more. I got to go out into the reserve nearby the school and get hand on experience. Not only did we learn that birdwatching has so much more significance to our learning, but also it teaches us to describe our surroundings and it provides a basis for a deeper appreciation of nature.”

During the session, I simply pointed the telescope to a group of cormorants, sometimes a Cocoi Heron or Striated Heron. Most people were fascinated by the clarity of the image and the details that they had never paid attention to. Younger kids showed even more excitement and curiosity, some of whom were inspired to watch birds in their own time.

I was proud that the workshop turned out to be a great success, but at the same time it made me wonder about the lack of connection to nature students nowadays have. Is this the reason that many of us don’t care for it? Is this the reason that many of us find the arguments of activists intangible and unconvincing? Is this the reason that we are reluctant to take action?

It is certainly not true that simply by allowing students to spend more time in the wild, we can solve the issue of climate change. After all, humans have been polluting the environment before the advancement of technology, when they spent a large portion of their time in the field. However, it is reasonable to say that in order for students to understand environmentalism and start taking action, they need to have a deeper connection with nature.

So how to promote environmentalism among students? We need to start cultivating a connection between students and the environment. We need to integrate the physical interaction with nature into the study of climate change. To achieve this, we need to refine our method and focus of education. Instead of spending time sitting in the classroom and discussing the impacts of climate change, students should be encouraged to go outside and interact with nature without the influence of technology. Only when the students have a more profound relationship with the environment can they start to care.

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