By W. George Scarlett
Image by Emanuele Bevacqua, via Wikimedia Commons
Let’s talk climate change. Why? It’s simple. To be an earth steward in the 21st century one must understand and do something about climate change – because climate change and its related problems constitute the single greatest threat to the health of our planet. But what does this mean for nourishing the development of tomorrow’s earth stewards? If children have little natural interest in such impersonal matters as carbon emissions – wouldn’t bringing climate change into our attempts to nourish their development be dooming our efforts from the start? Isn’t the dominant way of talking about climate change, what we might call a carbon emissions paradigm, simply not suited for children?
Happily, there is a second and complementary paradigm for talking about climate change and solutions to climate change, an eco-restoration paradigm, one that offers possibilities for building on children’s interests. This eco-restoration paradigm rests on a marvelous, fairytale-like way of understanding evolution – a way that professional scientists may not like because it is, well, a fairy-tale’s way and not that of a scientist. But it is a child’s way, and it captures the central idea behind the eco-restoration paradigm, namely that nature’s ways are the ways to fight climate change. The fairy-tale goes something like this:
A very long time ago, over four billion years, in fact, the earth was dark and sometimes much too hot and sometimes much too cold to support life. But over time, Nature built a wondrous community of plants, animals, and other living beings – a community where different kinds of beings depend on one other for their survival and a community that came to control temperature to make the earth livable.
Using this eco-restoration paradigm opens up all kinds of possibilities for capturing children’s attention — in ways that set them on a pathway to becoming 21st century earth stewards – those who will fight climate change. Whatever the context may be — urban, suburban, or rural, children can become excited by the ways nature works as well as motivated to care for nature by doing things that allow nature to do its job of keeping our planet healthy. Children are naturally interested in how squirrels find the nuts they buried in the Fall, how beavers build dams, how birds make nests — in other words, children are naturally interested in how nature ‘works’ and when we build on that natural interest, we start children down an eco-restoration pathway – even if, at first, they aren’t capable of understanding how biodiversity and eco-systems keep our planet healthy.
Therefore, in leading children to wonder about worms, be curious about crabs and take interest in insects, we set children on a path to eventually see in this myriad of parts the partnerships that turn the natural world into a marvelous and complex community, a community where the story is as much about cooperation and interdependence as it is about competition and survival of the fittest, a story that provides the key to what has kept our planet livable. And once children start to see the interconnections and interdependency of living beings, then they are ready to dive into explanations of just how this interdependence works to keep our planet livable and just how we can work to restore what nature has been doing long before we humans came on the scene.
What remains to be worked out are the details, the specific methods for nourishing the development of tomorrow’s earth stewards. One of the best methods to start is with the words we choose when helping children to connect to nature. Our words can begin to provide children with at least an intuitive understanding of the eco-restoration way of thinking about climate change. In our work with children and while using words that they understand – words such as “family”, “teammates” and “superheroes” – we can get across the gist of concepts such as symbiotic relationships, ecosystems, and keystone animals – concepts that rest on the capacity to know and reason using systems thinking. Using child-friendly words to convey concepts central to an eco-restoration way of thinking about fighting climate change is but one method for introducing children to the eco-restoration way of thinking. This website is intended to provide a great many more methods – so that we become more and more able to guide and nourish tomorrow’s earth stewards, those children and teens who will come to understand and use nature’s ways of fighting climate change.
For further information about an eco-restoration way of thinking about climate change, read the Biodiversity for a Livable Climate’s website http://bio4climate.org.
And here is Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, superstars in the environmental movement, explaining the need for us to make use of both the carbon emissions and the eco-restoration paradigms: