I’m sure many of you (if not all of you) have seen the proposed EPA budget cuts that came out last week. (The Oregonian created an easy-to-digest list detailing 42 of the specific cuts.) There is no doubt that we all saw cuts that may impact our own work or work that we support, admire, or advocate for.
Having taken some time to let the potential realities sink in, we’ve come to a conclusion: We, as environmental organizations, supporters, and advocates, are the answer. We have the responsibility to step up where our government will not. And we have the ability to fill the gaps to ensure we continue to address the most pressing issues facing our environment today.
The administration is proposing a 94% cut to the environmental education budget. Many of our partners who work on the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes are looking at cuts of 93% and 97% respectively. What are we to do? Losing nearly the entire budget for some focus areas may induce panic, but it also forces us to get creative.
We believe a solution lies in our communities and our young people. We have an opportunity within our education system to more intentionally connect curriculum to the environment, leveraging in-classroom content and applying it to real-world environmental issues.
It’s proven that students have deeper understanding when they are applying what they learn to solve real problems. Think back to your own experience with science or math. Many of us questioned what we would ever do with that information. And someone like me, who ended up being a communications professional, didn’t learn the answer until K-12 was in my distant past. Now imagine you’re a student today, and your science instructor tells you you’re going to take what you learned in class about chemical analysis and the physical makeup of a watershed and you’re going to apply it to the Clinton River spillway project (one of the many projects across the country whose funding is threatened). You are charged with cleaning up the watershed and restoring its native habitat that has been impacted by rust belt legacy. No, you’re not being asked to write a report about what you would do; you’re being asked to actually do it.
I’m getting excited just typing this. Now multiply this experience by 100, 1,000, 10,000 young people. Or, in Earth Force’s case, 28,999 young people per year. The opportunities are truly limitless.
It won’t be easy. Nothing worth it ever is. But it’s not impossible. And it means that no matter what adversities we encounter, we have the ability to overcome.
We’d love to hear from other folks who have exciting ideas around how we can continue to work towards our goals of protecting and improving our environment. Share them in the comments section.
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.