Guest Post: Vince Meldrum, Earth Force President and CEO
It seems like every day I learn something new and surprising about our recent election. Here is the latest:
The Environmental Voters Project is reporting that 20 million eligible voters viewed climate change as a priority issue (great news), but less than half of those people voted (bad news). This is the result despite massive “Get Out The Vote” efforts from conservation organizations.
Worst of all, when people who care deeply about the environment don’t vote, politicians know they aren’t voting and don’t feel obligated to address environmental issues. (I won’t go into the details of how politicians make this calculation, but this podcast does a great job describing it). Which means that even though 64% of Americans are worried a “great deal” or “fair amount” about global warming, politicians know they can ignore the issue and not pay a price on election day.
We need to change the calculations politicians are making about the environment. To do that we need to change the citizenship habits of people who care about the environment. The habits of citizenship are set at a young age. In fact, by the time a student graduates from high school, researchers can predict with some accuracy whether he or she will be an active citizen.
If we want politicians to really value the environment, we need to create a constituency that politicians want to engage. That requires education that brings together environmental content and civic engagement. “It’s not enough to just talk about change, or practice in mock legislatures,” writes author Steve Zemelman. “When students see adults listening to them with respect, they begin to realize they have a voice and can make a difference in their world.” Young people who have this kind of experience are more likely to do the things citizens who care about the environment should do: vote, participate in city council meetings, and make their voices heard. In short, the kind of people politicians must account for if they want to get elected.
At Earth Force we provide middle school educators with the materials, training, and support to get students directly involved in impacting community policies and practices. Through these programs, students get firsthand experience making their community sustainable. They do this by researching issues, engaging with community stakeholders to understand various perspectives, and making their voices heard where it counts – in city hall, the state legislature, or in their own school.
I have witnessed how students transform when given the opportunity to improve their communities. The motivation to learn STEM moves from preforming well on a test, to wanting to master concepts so that they can effectively communicate their ideas. Civics education moves from memorizing how a bill becomes a law to interacting with policy makers as they create laws.
Don’t despair about the environment not being an issue this election. Join me in looking forward. Together we should focus on what we can do to ensure that environmental issues are a part of the discussion going forward and that people are prepared to take a part in that discussion.
Author: Kristen Mueller
Kristen Mueller leads national communications, creating engagement and excitement around Earth Force, and its partners’, hands on, minds on programming. Specializing in traditional media and social media relations, she brings youth voice and leadership to the forefront of the environmental education field.