Do you have any tips for helping me get my kids involved in environmental protection advocacy? — Jeanine Black, Charlotte, NC
There’s no time like the present to teach kids to respect their environment and be willing to stand up to protect it. Of course, any good environmental education starts at home: parents should always keep in mind that they are role models for their kids, and should act responsibly. And most schools today incorporate issues of sustainability into their curricula. But kids who want to do more can sync up with one of any number of nonprofits focused on getting young people involved with volunteering and advocacy on behalf of the environment.
One of the best places to start is Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES!), a nonprofit that runs a national speakers’ and workshop tour around the U.S. and beyond as well as summer camps devoted to teaching kids how to take action on behalf of the environment. The group also runs JAMs, bringing together “young changemakers” from local communities to brainstorm ideas for solutions to local, national and international environmental problems. The YES! website features information on a wide range of environmental topics as well as videos focusing on organizing and coalition building around shared environmental goals.
Another great resource is the Center for Biological Diversity’s Generation Wild program, designed to help kids learn about and help protect local wildlife. The program’s website offers kids tips on things like how to write an effective and compelling “letter to the editor” for publication in a local newspaper, creating a backyard wildlife sanctuary, encouraging teachers and schools to undertake projects that help local wildlife, and spreading the word via social media.
Meanwhile, Earthforce, Inc. helps kids ages 10-14 develop citizenship skills and address both local and national environmental problems. Participants get hands-on, real-world opportunities to learn about the issues and develop skills that can help them become lifelong leaders in addressing them. Another leading youth environmental group is Tree Musketeers, which empowers kids to use innovative approaches in launching their own environmental campaigns where they live. Through its Young Executive program, the group provides resources to help kids learn the practical, logistical and personal skills to lead environmental actions and spread the word about the need to live more sustainable lifestyles.
Yet another nonprofit vehicle that helps kids get active is SustainUS, which focuses on sustainable development. Its Agents of Change program sends youth delegations to United Nations conferences on climate change, sustainable development, women’s issues and biological diversity—and its Lead Now Fellowship trains and supports young people in becoming leaders in advancing sustainable development.
Last but not least, TakingItGlobal is an international network of young people working to tackle global environmental challenges. Its Digital Youth Engagement, Global Education and Social Innovation programs focus on creating the next generation of environmental leaders around the world.
Young people can also get involved in environmental protection efforts right in their own backyards even without the support of a non-profit. Examples include organizing a local e-waste recycling drive, asking schools and businesses in the area to refrain from using noxious chemicals for landscaping, and coordinating carpools to reduce traffic-related greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, kids can learn a lot by finding a local green group and volunteering to help canvass for funds, clean-up a beach or waterway, or lobby local officials to take sustainability into account. Indeed, our common future may well depend on it.