Earth Day 2013 is April 22, and it has a compelling theme: Climate Change. What an outstanding opportunity to help kids and teens understand how our everyday decisions and actions impact our environment—and help empower them to make smarter decisions and take smarter actions. All these decisions and actions add up to protecting our planet or causing our climate to change more rapidly.
As described in Make a Splash! A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands, “Some climate change is natural. Earth’s climate has cycles and patterns. Temperatures rise and fall. However, most scientists agree that human actions have made these changes bigger and faster. Human actions can also help slow down these changes.
“Greenhouse gases are a big cause of climate change. These are gases that build up in the air and make our planet warmer. Carbon dioxide is a common greenhouse gas. When we burn oil and coal to run cars, factories, electrical plants, and farms, we produce a lot of carbon dioxide. Some of it stays in the air and some of it goes into the water.”
Ready for Action
Can even young children understand about climate change? Absolutely! We can all do our part to reduce greenhouse gases. This is especially urgent because our oceans absorb up to half of the carbon dioxide we produce. That’s too much for our waters.
Here are a few things kids—even young kids—can do to have a positive impact on climate.
- Promote walking and biking campaigns: These options are great for exercise and produce no carbon dioxide.
- Turn off and unplug: Yes, turn off lights at school and home. Teach your school community about unplugging electronics when not in use. For an exceptional resource with all you need for school and home energy audits, visit EarthEcho International (see resources below) and click on the Water Planet Challenge Action Guides. Select You Have the Power! for a free service learning guide to energy reduction.
- Reduce: When you use less, less has to be produced. Do a classroom inventory of ways you can use less. Or, when something is used and you are done with it, then . . .
- Reuse: Be clever—look for ways to reuse an item before you throw it away. Want to create a T-shirt with an Earth Day message? Take a used one and turn it inside out. Now you will give a double message!
- Recycle: Often, recycling is misunderstood. Learn about what can be recycled and help others know how to sort their trash. Visit TerraCycle for ways to recycle items you would normally throw in landfills, or upcycle them (convert them into new materials or products of better quality).
- Compost: Reducing food waste reduces greenhouse gases in landfills. Start composting in schools and educate the entire community. Download the free Rethinking Waste Water Planet Challenge Action Guide.
- Be litter-free: Even a little litter adds up. Read about the “Plant Your Butts” and “Be Straw Free” campaigns in Make a Splash! Remember that litter often ends up in storm drains and gets a free ride into our oceans (oh no!). Have fun teaching others; turn the hilarious book The Wartville Wizard into a play, a great antidote for litter.
- Talk, talk, talk: Spread the word about all the good choices you are making, and what more can be done. In Make a Splash! and Going Blue, read how your words can have a ripple effect. Turn your words into a message, a letter, or make a video.
Earth Day is the perfect time to launch into action. And then remember to turn every day into Earth Day!
Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., is an international service learning and education consultant and a former classroom teacher. She presents at conferences around the world and works with state departments of education, university faculty and students, school districts, and classroom teachers on a variety of education issues such as service learning, civic responsibility, student leadership, and respectful school communities.
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Suggested Resources: Books
The Carbon Diaries, 2015 by Sachi Lloyd. In this London-based young adult novel, follow a teen as the community goes on a carbon-restricted plan in response to a global crisis.
The Curse of Akkad: Climate Upheavals that Rocked Human History by Peter Christie. A historical overview of human encounters with climate change from earliest recorded history to the present. Riveting!
Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau with EarthEcho International. Provides what we need to know and plenty of examples of teens taking action to protect our waters and planet.
A Kids’ Guide to Climate Change & Global Warming by Cathryn Berger Kaye. A service learning interdisciplinary guide to making a plan and taking action.
Make a Splash! A Kids’ Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau with EarthEcho International. An engaging book that helps children understand the role of water on our planet and find myriad ways to protect our watery planet. Includes many examples of children taking action.
The Wartville Wizard by Don Madden. A timeless tale of a wizard sending littered items to stick to the litterer. Hilarious!
Suggested Resources: Websites
ABCD Books. This website from Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., of CBK Associates and ABCD Books offers exceptional resources, a catalog of books to support service learning, and professional development all year long. Contact Cathryn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EarthEcho International: Water Planet Challenge offers multiple service learning action guides authored by Cathryn Berger Kaye, all free for downloading. Two have been referenced in this blog post: You Have the Power! and Rethinking Waste.
Stop Waste at School offers outstanding examples and resources from the Oakland, California, region with replicable ideas.
TerraCycle offers ways for schools to send in hard-to-recycle items and earn points as they go.