Today, environmental awareness is not an option, but a necessity, and its presence needs to make itself known in all areas of everyday life. The duties and responsibilities of parents and educators should be intertwined with those of global citizens, so that the generation born after the year 2010 can live, work, and thrive on a sustainable planet.
According to the Center for Science Education, the measures we take today do not guarantee a friendlier environment, partly because it may take years for the changes to take effect and partly because not all countries contribute in the same way. With these two factors in mind, scientists still predict that in the near future, the global temperature will increase by 0.2° C, precipitations by 3-5%, snow and ice caps will continue to melt and sea levels will rise. So, does this mean that humanity is doomed for failure and that the next generation should resign to the idea of living on a sick, dying planet?
Not at all. While some actions need decades to show consistently positive results, others have an immediate impact and improve our lives for the better as soon as we make them a natural part of our lives. Recycling is perhaps the best example.
In as little as two decades, recycling rates have grown tremendously, so that today landfills are close to becoming history. Slowly but surely, countries all over the world are banning or considering banning plastic bags, raising landfill taxes and promoting legislative measures to reduce waste.
Nevertheless, these large-scale projects can only be sustainable if the new generation adopts an eco-conscious lifestyle. For our current generation, recycling came with a learning curve. People had to make a conscious decision not to throw all the trash the same place and that certain items must be collected separately. If we want environmental actions to succeed, we have to pass on the green philosophy to today’s children, so that recycling becomes second nature.
The role of environmental education in the circular economy
Reduce, reuse, recycle are the three pillars of waste reduction and a major priority is to instill them from an early age.
In the United States, this is outlined in the Environmental Literacy Plan, whose purpose is to teach about how ecosystems and human systems are interdependent, particularly, how the consumption choices human beings make alter their ability to live sustainably. The plan involves the inclusion of environmental content in the curriculum, starting with grades Pre-Kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.
In Europe, there are thousands of higher education institutions offering Bachelor, Masters and Doctorate level environmental studies. Also, the Eco-Schools program has been implemented in almost every country in Europe and it was even expanded in Asia, Africa and Australia.
Apart from these initiatives to teach recycling in schools, there are a number of projects started either by authorities or local NGOs, who aim to familiarize children with environmental actions.
The first results can already be seen in the new generation of young eco-preneurs who are changing the world through their projects.
Teaching recycling at home
Although schools play a major part in teaching recycling, environmental education starts at home and parents should instill responsible practices before kids go to school. This can be done in a number of ways, from explaining kids the basics of selective recycling to teaching them various ways to reduce waste around the house. From used oil recycling to upcycling old toys, they should be helped to develop an eco-aware attitude from an early age. Exposing them to science videos for kids and engaging with them in fun recycling activities.
However, parents should also be careful how they present the necessity for recycling to their children. Because we have only just managed to understand the full extent of our actions and environmental movements are in their infancy stage, psychologists are talking about a new term, environmental grief, which describes the feeling of impending doom that some children or teens may experience when faced with the fact that they were born in an era of climate change and pollution. Psychologists recommend that both parents and teachers should encourage a proactive attitude, pointing out progress as well as challenges.
Minimalism and environmental influencers
Every generation has its influencers, but as an interesting shift takes the online world by storm, gen-Z children are less influenced by singers and pop-culture icons and more by digital personas. And, for all its faults, social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have also given a voice to eco-responsible content creators, helping them raise awareness on environmental issues and speaking to the youth in a way that resonates.
Living sustainably is the new cool, and digital influencers are playing a major role in changing the perception. The infamous “haul” videos, that used to be very popular among young YouTube viewers, are now losing their appeal, as content creators are starting to give up binge shopping in favor of slow fashion.
2019 took off with the #byebuychallenge hashtag trending on Instagram, which invited users to buy less and make the most out of the clothes they already have. At the same time, more and more influencers with great appeal to the youth work with ethical fashion brands, which shows in market trends. As more and more fast fashion companies struggle, the focus falls on ethical ones, which are gaining mainstream popularity among the young generation.