Written by Earth Force President and CEO, Vince Meldrum
In a recent blog post, David Beckman of the Pisces Foundation made an interesting comment. He noted that for the first time in his memory the environmental movement finds itself at a place where current “policy is inimical to our basic values—not so much reflecting an alternative way to reach a shared goal, but a rejection of the goal itself.”
At Earth Force, we’ve been grappling with how we ever ended up here. In our search we have identified what we think are key parts of the puzzle:
- An interesting paradox: Gallup polls report that an increasing number of Americans believe that climate change is real and want to make changes to address it, yet fewer than half of “committed environmentalists” took the time to vote.
- An underlying theme: Many young Americans are participating in some forms of civic action (volunteering at record rates and showing up at rallies in groups larger than we have witnessed in more than a generation), while consistently reporting lower participation in politics and governing than ever before.
The environmental problems we face will be with us for generations. As E.J. Dionne argued in an article published in the Washington Post this morning, “Those seeking to deepen democracy need to be ready when their moment comes.” Similarly, we believe that those seeking a generational approach to addressing environmental issues need to create a generation of citizens who think constantly about how to advance an issue, exploring its nuances, looking for an opening, an ally, a chance to convince a skeptic.
We believe that environmental education can and should foster people with the attributes of citizens. Doing so requires a different approach. More often than not, environmental education focuses on increasing student understanding of the environment, learning how humans impact natural systems, and developing personal habits to lessen an individual’s impact on the environment. But, research says that civic experience and a sense of efficacy are key determinants of citizen action – not commitment to an issue.
Solving generational problems requires a strategy designed with a generational mindset. At Earth Force we are pushing for collective action that embraces preparing the next generation. We do that by contextualizing environmental issues within the community and regulatory issues where they occur and by teaching young people by having them attempt to solve environmental issues through civic action.
The environmental problems we face will be with us for generations. We are calling on all environmentalists and environmental educators to really think about what it will take to “be ready when our moment comes.”
Vince Meldrum is an experienced leader with a 25-year history of transforming organizations through program development, innovative technology, and cross-sector partnerships. Vince’s expertise brings Earth Force into the center of the climate resiliency movement. With a specific focus on people, having built several large-scale partnerships, Vince offers a unique perspective on the role of community and youth in the future of our environment.