Her name was Messina. The dark eyes of the pretty young girl in the newspaper photo seemed to look right into my soul. The photo appeared with her letter to the editor.
"Will the earth be beautiful when I grow up?" she asked.
Her hopeful petition haunts me still. As a parent, I've always been impressed by the trust children invest in adults. Early on I discovered the value my children held for those three simple words. . ."count on me".
Still, more and more children, like Messina, feel a growing disappointment and sadness because so many grown-ups continue to ignore earth's problems. Adults trusted to watch over and keep safe their small planet failing them.
Certainly most adults love their children. Yet, when I ask if their children deserve to inherit an earth as healthy as the one the parents inherited, the adults seem overwhelmed by the problem's enormity.
Man has found it difficult to see himself as one of the endangered species. We cannot exist apart from our tiny planet and yet we are slow to accept the fact that our own tenuous grip on survival is subject to the same laws governing all life -- diatoms to man. There can be no doubt that man had badly misused his environment and all living things.
No one knows how the future of Earth will unfold, but to many, the destruction of our planet is inevitable. If sweeping changes are not made soon, the best computer models foresee earth's collapse within 55 years, a timetable well within the life expectancy of today's children.
As a young man adventuring across Africa, I learned this Kenyan proverb whose essence escaped me until I became a father --"Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children."
The average adult seems to feel controlled, exploited, and used by the system. There is a pervasive sense of personal powerlessness.
"What can I do about it?" I'm asked frequently. No wonder children feel adults are helpless to meet the challenges ahead.
Educate the child, save the earth
A wise old manatee once told me when we educate our children, we educate ourselves.
When we empower our children to overcome personal powerlessness, we grow stronger ourselves. A child taught that every human life should be equally valued will refuse to be paralyzed by past events.
A child taught to exercise his perfect rights--without infringing on the rights of others--will live for a healthy planet.. A child taught to reverence all life will develop environmental awareness.
Adults demonstrating ecological sensitivity by example, will foster an intense need in their children to preserve all living things on their shared planet.
A child taught the interdependence of all living things and their environment will become the adult who will make responsible decisions and take constructive action to save the earth.
The environmental education of our children is imperative for their survival.
When do you start?
Most formal teaching programs give 9- to 14-year old children the tools and inspiration to explore nature. But teaching can begin much earlier. Six-year old children can be taught to observe and appreciate nature. They experience the joy of discovery of natural phenomena more intensely and meaningfully than do most adults.
By the time a child is six years old his brain is nine-tenths as large as a fully developed adult brain.
Children learn by doing.
Research confirms children remember ten percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they hear and see, 70 percent of what they say, and 90 percent of what they sat and do.
Helping a child to expand his environmental awareness is easy if your values are right. When an adult values earth and its resources and is determined to protect it, his children develop the same appreciation. What is important to the parent becomes important to them. A culture that reverences all life cultivates within its children an ethic that will be intensified, preserved and carried into adulthood.
Environmental concepts develop within the child; they cannot be taught. Enlightened adults help children learn how to think, not what to think. We are most effective when we reach children how to look without telling them what to see. Parents foster self-empowerment when they encourage children to think for themselves. Helping children explore, expand and deepen their environmental awareness means saving the earth.
Children have a stake in learning about earth as home to humankind, wildlife and natural resources. To cultivate the desire to heal the planet, children must have an optimism that everything wrong can be made right again.
Adults can help build this confidence by creating hands-on opportunities for children to discover the natural world.
Children do not sleepwalk through life; they are highly aware. To see the world through the eyes of a child is to see wonder in all things.
Environmental awareness is not some prized scientific aptitude. It is a pyramid of simple honest observations laid one atop another into an orderly logical whole.
A child learns about his environment through his nose, eyes, tongue, ears and skin. Children quickly tune in to the sensory output of nature's organic complexity. Great joy comes from learning they too are part of the beauty of nature.
The environmental abuse man has heaped upon our small planet has destroyed entire populations of plants and animals. Of the millions of known life forms on our small planet, one passes into extinction every ten minutes.
A loving parent surely must ask himself:
What kind of a planet will my children inherit?
This much seems clear: A parent who spends quality time encouraging a motivated child will make a difference. An adult with a passion for our natural world and a willingness to share can plant magic in the mind of a child.
In the Talmud is written: "Each child has something to teach us, a message that will help to explain why we are here." Maybe it is to help us grown-ups muster the vision and courage to alter the course of the inevitable.