How To Inspire The Next Generation To Be Eco Heroes

Guest post by: Sally Giblin, co-founder of Be The Future 

Here are 4 of the best ways to inspire children to care for the planet

Which of these narratives lights you up? And inspires you to take action?

Narrative 1: The climate emergency is growing by the day – from the extreme weather events breaking out around the world; to the terrifyingly dire “code red for humanity” IPCC report; to the greenwash, empty promises and token solutions of COP26. It’s up to the power of the people to fix this catastrophe.

Narrative 2: We’re at a pivotal moment in history, and must seize the opportunity to create a better, greener, fairer future, where humans thrive. The children and grandchildren we love deserve a liveable future.

You’ve picked narrative 2, right? Thought so. Me too.

A fear based climate narrative (like narrative 1) can paralyze you with fear – sending you into the fetal position (rather than inspiring you to do something).

But a narrative based on stubborn optimism (like narrative 2) can inspire you – and your children – to rise up for change. And create the future they deserve. Because problems can grow exponentially – but so can solutions.

Source: Pexels (Campus Production)

Our children can’t be expected to clean up this mess (we must do that) – but we can empower them to be part of creating a better, greener, cleaner tomorrow.

Here are four of the best ways to inspire the next generation to be eco heroes:

1. Engage our children through the power of storytelling 

So. How do we instill an attitude of hope, optimism and positive action in our children?

Research shows that messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than just facts.

Have you heard the story of the two sisters from Bali?

Melati and Isobel Wijsen were 12 and 10 when they decided to tackle the huge plastic pollution problem strangling their tropical paradise home of Bali. They’d always had a deep connection to the sea, jungle and mountains of Bali.

One day, they were inspired by a lesson they had at Bali’s Green School. A lesson about people who had changed the world, like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. They started a campaign to ban plastic bags, called Bye Bye Plastic Bags.

Source: Bye Bye Plastic Bags

Over 6 years, the girls gathered 90,000 signatures on a petition, started a hunger strike, gave a TED talk in London that’s been watched over 1.5 million times, organised Bali’s largest ever beach cleanup (with 12,000 people across 55 locations and 43 tonnes of waste collected), and worked with an environmental lawyer to constantly campaign the government to ban plastic bags.

Finally, in December 2018, Bali announced that single use plastics – including straws, bags, cups, bottles and cup lids – would be banned from the island by July 2019. Today, Bye Bye Plastics is a global youth-led movement, with 45 teams across the world. These sisters prove you’re never too young to start creating a better future.

What do you think about the power of stories to inspire our children? If you’re convinced, check out the 25 Books That Teach Kids To Care About The Environment.

2. Role model eco behaviour (starting with small, imperfectly green steps)

It took me a lot longer than Melati and Isabel, to start agitating for change. Definitely a late bloomer there! In fact, I used to be a fashion buyer, with new outfits nearly every week. I was blissfully  unaware of the impact of my materialistic lifestyle.

The documentary series War On Waste opened my eyes. To the waste, the pollution, and who’s paying the real price for the way we consume. I felt so ashamed at my lack of knowledge. But then I realised – if I’m unaware, how many other people don’t know? Sometimes it just takes having your eyes opened.

And that was the start of a (long!) journey to become a circular fashion advocate. A vegan. A climate educator. Who’s still an imperfect, ever learning, environmentalist today. Starting to make small, imperfect, gradual eco changes is one of the best things you can do for your children. Because infants and toddlers are the world’s best copy cats. (Anyone whose tiny child has dropped a swear word will attest to that!).

But what kind of changes am I talking about?

  • You can choose to re-love something – rather than buy new.
  • You can choose to eat a plant based meal – rather than animal products.
  • You can choose to sign up to green energy – rather than fossil fuels.
Source: Pexels (Ella Olsson)

Making changes like this isn’t an overnight thing! It absolutely takes time. But your child will see you doing these things. And ask questions. And you’ll be making small ripples of change, that will gradually grow to waves. Waves that invite your community to act too.

3.  Seek experiences over (consuming) things

A child who learns the magic of consuming less also learns the magic of living more.

Have you found the magic of consuming less?

If you haven’t, I get that the whole concept of buying less sounds pretty confronting. Because we’ve grown up in this world where buying things can get confused with love. As Sarah Wilson so profoundly explores in her book This One Wild and Precious Life – buying things has become a dominant language of love.

Where buying things equals…

… a way to show love for a new baby.

… a way to comfort a friend in need.

… a way to reward ourselves.

But all this stuff?

  • It takes your time.
  • It takes your energy.
  • It takes your money.
  • It uses finite resources.
  • It adds to waste.
  • It adds to clutter.
  • It adds to the endless “storage solutions” you need.

And when you do less of it?

  • You get more time to live.
  • You get more time to experience.
  • You get more time to love.
Source: Pexels (Allan Mas)

And it’s also one of the most profound lessons you can teach your kids.

4. Build a love of nature (because why protect something you don’t love?)

We can inspire a love of nature – and a desire to protect it – by spending more time in the natural world with our children.

Source: Pexels (Amy Lane)

You might be fortunate enough to have green spaces close by. Or you might be needing to get a little creative to get closer to nature.

If you don’t have a national park, local park, or garden close by, some pot plants or windowsill herbs can still help your children to experience the power of sun, water and soil to create life. And some of the 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ can be done from home too, like watching a sunset, helping a plant grow, and making friends with a bug.

Source: Pexels (Charles Parker)

And if you’re stuck inside, as we so often have been over the pandemic? There’s always spectacular nature documentaries like Our Planet (with brilliant accompanying resources for parents and young people) and spaces like National Geographic Kids.

Takeaway

As David Attenborough says, “there can be no greater legacy than giving young people the tools they need to save our planet.” What our children learn & do now, will have an impact on children that have not yet been born.

Four of the best ways to inspire our children to be little eco heroes, are:

  1. Engage our children through stories about nature and young changemakers
  2. Role model eco behaviour, starting with small, imperfectly green steps
  3. Seek experiences over (consuming) things
  4. Build a love of nature (so they want to protect nature)


It’s only fitting, that I leave you with some words from Melati Wijsen: “No matter how old you are or where you come from, you can always lead by example. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait until you’re older for someone to make that path for you. Make your own path – and go for it.”

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