Today, I met an 8-year-old bio-genius. A bio-genius who happens to love Animal Planet T-shirts, mangoes and the color blue. My kind of kid. Prancing onto the bus with a glitter-infused bluebird painted on his face, the kid introduced himself as a future animal-hero, invested in saving the planet to keep habitats intact. We walked straight to the Icestone table in the back of the bus, sat down and had a conversation I swear I could have had with any high school age student versed in environmental studies.
“This building across the street – 1827 NE Wall – it doesn’t need to be here. It probably destroyed some animal’s home. And you know what happens when you do that? That animal either has to find a new home or it dies.”
“Yeah, I know where electricity comes from. Coal. Strip-mining. Big machines dig it up and bad particles react with the air and that air gets in our lungs and (he makes a choking noise) it makes all kinds of people sick.”
“Animals are already dying. Their habitats are changing and they don’t know how to deal with it. Climate change is one reason.”
“I know a lot about seals. Maybe people think that they are old and shouldn’t be on the planet anymore, but I want them around. I wanna protect them. People just take them out of the water and kill them for fun. They don’t even eat them or anything.”
“In some places, people flush things down the toilet that they shouldn’t – pills and chemicals and all kinds of stuff that travel down big pipes to the ocean, killing the animals that live there.”
Roles were reversed – this kid, this 8-year old kid, was teaching me. I could not of had a more inspirational exchange. And you know what? I’m not surprised. Young people are smart. Smart and passionate and motivated. They are the dreamers, unjaded by what seems to be an impervious system, incapable of admitting and acting against environmental degradation. And we need them. Of course, there are many exceptional adults working towards sustainability and environmental activism (I’ve been lucky enough to meet a good number of them on this trip), but they can only take us so far. We need kids, just like the one I was privileged enough to meet today, to further the movement, provide the ingenuity and creativity needed to fix what we’ve already managed to mess up, and build enthusiasm for a new way of thinking. Thinking that says our current situation was not fated, that we have the power to create positive change. Thinking that disregards the notion that humans have been delegated as stewards or rulers of the Earth and acknowledges humanity as part of the community of life, just like everything else. And I think this starts in the classroom. I really do. The idea that we are somehow superior to all other life forms and thus ordained to conquer and over consume the Earth’s resources isn’t innate in our personalities. It is ingrained in us at an early age. And my hope is that this may shift with an increasing focus on sustainability and environmental issues in our schools’ curriculums. Exposure to these issues is needed to foster passion like that of the boy I met today. As the metaphor goes (once again)– plant a seed and it may sprout. If we give kids the opportunity to sustain our future, the world we live in could be a very different place.