Students 8 to 14 years old standing up in front of other students of the same age speaking with knowledge, clarity, passion and confidence about climate change.
Kids showing other kids pictures of young people their age in other countries shaking hands with world leaders, pop stars, and famous actors and actresses. Young people showing pictures of themselves speaking in front of city councils, mayors and crowds numbering in the thousands.
I spoke to an eleven year old girl waiting in line to take the stage to present her portion of the presentation. She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m a born leader.” She then took the stage and confidently delivered her message to the crowd.
A parent volunteer who told me she at first was not excited about being involved but her daughter’s enthusiasm had convinced her to get involved. She was so thankful.
Young people in the crowd boldly questioning and offering solutions to Washington State Representative Jamie Pedersen who dropped by to show his support and share ideas.
The day brought back fond memories of when I was a Middle School teacher.As a former Middle School teacher, with ten years experience teaching 5th, 6th and 7th grade, this academy reminded me of an elective I was allowed to develop and teach at Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok, Thailand called Teacher’s Aide. The elective introduced students to the field of teaching, gave them their own students to teach and the responsibility to design lesson plans, develop and administer tests, and give their students a grade entered into their official school record. All this was under the guidance of me as their elective teacher. It was extremely successful and both I and the administration were amazed at how mature, dedicated and effective the student teachers were with their own students.
In these Academies, much of the same is going on. Children who have already been trained in previous Academies, give speeches to a new group of children to teach them about the climate crisis and train them as “Ambassadors for Climate Justice”. Through group work and presentations the children are taught about climate justice and they also learn how to present these ideas to others in a confident and exciting way.
Michael Foster is the force behind this rapidly growing organization in the United States. His main focus is seeding the Plant for the Planet children’s initiative to other places as quickly as possible. He argues effectively that children have the most to lose and hold the greatest sway with parents, inducing their involvement in the issue. I’m trying to help him out. In Michael Foster’s own words:
Six years doesn’t seem like enough time to plant 1,000 billion trees, or to organize wealthy nations into paying impoverished nations for being green. But this volunteer-driven children’s movement is by far the most hopeful thing I’ve come across in 25 years of global warming news. How many environmental organizations have a 3-Point Plan to reverse global warming posted on their website? Simple and clear: 1 trillion trees by 2020, combat global poverty, and end carbon emissions. They’ve counted 12.6 billion trees planted in the last few years. That’s a start! Child Ambassadors hold absolute moral authority because when we grownups are gone, they’ll still be here. These children can change the conversation on climate from ‘whether it is happening’ to ‘What are you doing to protect my future? What are you doing today to stop global warming?’
I want every kid in the USA to have a chance to experience an Academy, to learn to speak out for the future they will inherit, while it’s still possible to make a huge difference.
Today the children need volunteers all across the country. What does it take to host an Academy for 80 students? People. Parents, retired teachers, college students, anybody can organize a day-long workshop for local kids in every town all over the USA. Let’s get a competition going to plant more trees.
We need our kids to tell us, ‘Stop wrecking my planet, right now!’ I know parents will listen when their kids say, ‘We shouldn’t drive that big SUV. I don’t think the earth can afford it. Maybe we should plant a thousand trees instead.’
Parents know we have to change our ways but we don’t want to short-change our children now, so we try not to think about it. But we’re failing our children treat them to a comfy life now, but don’t think ahead for them.
Foster uses the Photo Album test,
Imagine, looking back through a photo album in 20 years. The very things parents do today to privilege our children — pay for big vacations, big toys, a bigger house — these are the very things that our children are going to look back on in horror a few short years from now and say to us, ‘how could you do that, when you knew that Life was at stake?’
History of Plant for the Planet (adapted from website)
In January 2007, a German boy, 9-year-old Felix Finkbeiner founded The Plant-for-the-Planet Children´s Initiative . While researching a climate project for school, Felix grew inspired by Wangari Maathai, who planted 30 million trees in Africa. In his class presentation, Felix ended by saying that he thought children could plant one million trees in each country of the world.
Since then Plant-for-the-Planet has grown into a worldwide movement. By the start of 2011 there were children participating in more than 93 countries. It has trained over 19,000 children from all over the word and that number is increasing rapidly.The United States has been a late comer to this children’s movement but that is about to change. The ripples Michael Foster started are beginning to feel like waves! He’s looking for others to assume the role he’s taken on in Seattle.
The program has all the elements to be successful and spread quickly. Here’s why:
1. It involves those most affected by climate change – young people. It provides them with the knowledge and leadership skills necessary to carry the message to their peers, parents, teachers, politicians and community business leaders.2. Peers listen to other peers. It’s the power of peer pressure put to work.
3. It involves parents with their kids future and educational development. It motivates them to get involved in climate change action as a result of that involvement. It is hard to ignore your children.
4. It involves teachers always looking for creative and innovative opportunities to engage their students in order to teach them valuable skills such as leadership and public speaking.
5. It involves politicians. It is hard to ignore a young person knocking on your door or asking you a question if you are a public figure. They know if they do their parents, whom they need to vote for them, will not forget.
6. It involves community business leaders always looking for good PR opportunities in order to portray a caring partner image to their community of customers.
7. It attracts the press. Young people doing amazing things always attracts the cameras.
8. And finally, and most importantly, it gives all involved a tangible, realistic way to get involved and move forward with a feeling of hope and empowerment.
To begin the process of organizing your own Academy the best place to start is at the Plant for the Planet website. Here are some key places to visit.
2. Pictures to choose from for slideshow presentation (power point) (takes some time to load but worth the wait). These pictures are used as visual aides to assist students oral presentations.
This is a YES WE CAN program bubbling with the optimism that only youth can bring to the table. We need that energy in the environmental movement. It’s time to Stop Talking and Start Planting. It’s time we join and assist in any way we can these young Ambassadors for Climate Justice.
Michael Foster: A mental health therapist and father in Seattle. Mike always had an interest in the impacts humans have on the health and welfare of our planet. From his childhood in Texas, where he grew up in the shadow of oil refineries, he has always been aware that we have the ability and the obligation to be positive stewards for the Earth – not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
Mike is a speaker for the Climate Reality project, the Al Gore initiative, and volunteers his time to present “The Slide Show” to any and all interested groups. His particular focus is exploring the ways that families can work together to reverse global warming and create a sustainable future.
Michael Foster is ready to help anybody interested in organizing and conducting their own Academy.