Thursday, April 23, 2009

Should We Expect a Green Backlash From the Kids?

Happy Earth Day one day after the fact. I thought this was interesting. Emily Bazelon at Slate asks if we've gone too far in our efforts to raise a green generation. After telling the story of a six-year-old who is already rebelling against "Earth Day" dogma, she writes:

The concept of Earth Day isn't the problem. Nor of course is the gentle reminder that our dear, fragile climate is helped when you remember to turn off the lights or the water (especially if it's hot). Also entirely unobjectionable is the beginner's science lesson about why a warmer planet wouldn't be a great thing. The problem is overkill, and discussions or curricula that don't pay enough attention to what real 6-year-olds (or 9- or 12-year-olds) can take in and grapple with. This is when green becomes the color of propaganda.

(Personally, I think an over emphasis on climate change is part of the problem. Global warming is hard—especially for kids—to understand and observe and several loud, well-funded voices have gone to great lengths to deny that global warming exists, is caused by human activity, or is a problem worth worrying about. I'm not saying that we shouldn't teach kids about global warming. But if we focus more on the non-controversial and easy-to-understand concepts of waste and pollution, the climate—along with the water, the soil, etc.—will take care of itself, so to speak.)

Part of the problem with today's green education, Bazelon suggests, is its gloom-and-doom approach. Instead of fostering in young people an appreciation for the natural world, we have turned the environment into a "source of existential despair." In this regard, efforts to make kids more green are similar to past efforts to keep kids from using drugs. From a 2001 Time article about DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education):

The weakness in the old DARE program, as several studies suggest, was the simplicity of its message — and its panic-level assertions that "drug abuse is everywhere." Kids, program directors learned, don't respond well to hyperbole, and both the "Just Say No" message and the hysteria implied in the anti-drug rhetoric were pushing students away.


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