Guess who was at the party?
It’s not every day that students get to celebrate a birthday — virtually — with someone voted one of the 10 greatest Canadians in history. Thousands of students from nearly 200 elementary schools from B.C. to Newfoundland celebrated the 75th birthday of David Suzuki — environmental icon, activist, educator and award-winning scientist — by participating in the David Suzuki Foundation’s first Q&A webinar on March 30. Students also marked the occasion with a “walkabout” in their schoolyards to observe nature and raise environmental awareness.
Suzuki, famous for his CBC science show The Nature of Things, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday, shares his message with Our Kids Media readers on the urgency of protecting the planet — now.
How essential are skills and literacies related to the environment for a digital generation facing nature-deficit disorder?
The planet is under assault. Human beings have become too numerous. We’ve got too much technological muscle power and too much consumptive demand for the planet to be able to sustain this. So we’re undermining the life support systems of the planet, all in the name of economic progress and growth.
So I think there’s never a more vital time when young people realize that they’re lives, their very survival, is made possible because of nature. It’s nature that gives us our clean air, our clean water, our clean food that comes from the soil and without nature we can’t exist, and yet our children today are spending the least amount of time outside of any generation in human history. So we’ve got a real challenge.
How can educators and schools help students acquire environmental awareness, knowledge and appreciation?
I think there’s a great effort now into modifying and changing curricula so that the environment is not just a special subject but includes core ideas in mathematics, history, or any of the areas that have a fundamental view through our biological nature. Our need for nature has got to be spread throughout every subject. So it’s just a part of what we are as human beings—we understand that we need nature for our very survival and our health. There are programs starting with their curricular changes. I was just out in the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and they’re working on a new kind of inquiry-based education in which the students ask about the world around them and they learn a lot of these fundamental things. So I think the schools have done a huge job in spreading much greater environmental awareness to their students.
How can parents help students acquire environmental awareness, knowledge and appreciation?
Well, parents are the big challenge. I think parents by the time they’ve gotten their education, got a job, got married, got a house, have children, then when they’re confronted with environmentalists who say you’ve got to change your way, they don’t like that. It’s very difficult once you’ve kind of established yourself in a comfortable position to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to give up my car or whatever.’ So for parents, we have to think beyond just material stuff and money and start thinking what was the world like when I was a child. And at the rate we’re going now, what do we think it will be like when my children are grown up and have their own families. And when you think about it that way, you realize, ‘Oh my god, when I was a kid I used to go fishing in that creek, there aren’t any fish left there.’ They’ve got to think much more about their children’s future in ecological terms, in terms of the environment.
What is your most important message for youth?
What’s happening now is all about their future. Whether the government does or does not do what I think they should do is going to have very little impact on my life. I’m at the end of my life. But whatever the government does or does not do, or business does or does not do, will have repercussions through the entire lives of our young people. So they have the most at stake. And they can’t just wait for adults to change or do something. They’ve got to get involved, and because they’re young people, I believe that you can’t deny or deflect what they’re saying. They speak from the heart, and if we love our children, we’ve got to listen to them and we’ve got to start changing into a way that will give them some kind of future. Right now, it’s looking very, very grim for our children.
Do you have any plans to help schools teach students these environmental skills and knowledge?
This is the beginning, what we saw today with the TelePresence (webinar) is what I hope is going to let me into the schools. Up until now I’ve resisted going into schools because there’s so many of them, and if I go into one then how can I turn another one down? I get dozens and dozens of requests every month for speaking but now with TelePresence and the ability to hooking up many schools, this is a whole new world for me and I’m certain the foundation is going to be very heavily involved in this.
How can kids help to protect the environment? To start, here are three simple things you can do for the Earth that are also good for you and your family.
1. LEARN: Find out how ordinary things work around your house, like water and electricity. When you flush the toilet, where does the sewage go? When you turn on your computer, where does the electricity come from? Knowing more about these sorts of things helps you understand how to reduce your family’s impact on the environment.
2. SHARE: Ask your parents and grandparents what it was like when they were kids. What kinds of animals and plants did they see? Do they remember forests or fields that have since disappeared? Tell them what you know about the harm we are causing the environment, and what we can all do to help repair it.
3. DO: Spend more time exploring nature in your neighbourhood. Go outside and find a quiet spot. Look carefully at the trees, plants, and flowers. Look for insects, birds and animals. I am certain you will be amazed with the natural wonders right there in your backyard.
- The David Suzuki Foundation
From a polar explorer to a distinguished New York Times writer, more experts share their thoughts on the essential 21st-century skills and literacies for students in the Expert Q&A section of the newly redesigned Dialogue website.
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How do you teach environmental awareness and appreciation to your children and students? What can schools, students and parents do to help the environment? What was your experience like participating in David Suzuki’s webinar or walkabout birthday celebrations? Tell us in the comment section below.