On October 21st, Canadians head to school auditoriums across the country to tick their choices in the ballot box. Most kids in those schools will stay in class, waiting for their turn. Over the past months, they may have watched the news with mom and dad. They’ve seen rainforests burn in Brazil or whales wash up with bellies full of plastic. They’ve seen girls close to them in age cross the Atlantic in a zero-emissions sailboat and hit headlines around the world.
They may feel the urgency. Reporting on the recent devastation brought on by Hurricane Dorian, Bernard Ferguson for The New York Times writes: “climate scientists have warned us of such disasters…hurricanes will develop and grow stronger more quickly and carry more rain as they move.” Canada is not immune. We may not see a hurricane outside our window, but those brilliant colours that characterize the landscape this time of the year have been arriving later and later. Since 1948, average temperatures have risen 1.7 degrees Celsius. Canadian Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna warns us that more is to come: “Along with higher and increased rainfall, we will see rising sea levels. Warmer waters and ocean acidification are expected to become increasingly evident over the next century.”
And there are costs, ones our children feel, even if not directly. In 2013 ice storm cost Toronto $106 million. Montreal has seen the human costs: 70 people died of heat-related causes in July alone when temperatures felt 40 degrees Celsius with the accompanying humidity. British Columbia has been losing record amounts of the forest to fires. Coastal communities have seen sea levels rise with their own eyes. Thunderstorms have caused widespread flooding, bringing Toronto’s downtown core to a standstill. Blair Feltmate, head of Intact Center on Climate Adaption, tells us that “flooding is the most expensive cost in Canada to extreme weather. In the past decade, costs of catastrophic insurable events have ballooned to $1.8 billion on average per year.”
Our kids may be tuned into all that news, or they may not be. But no doubt, they are tuned into you. They watch the decisions you make; they hear you speak about issues critical to the election. You may have engaged them by discussing what each candidate puts on the table. You may have encouraged their critical thinking skills, so when it’s their turn to vote, they know what to look for on the issues that matter to them most.
At Green Schools Green Future, we know that investing in a green future means investing in our kids. That means cultivating empathy and compassion through education, so students identify not only with their own needs but of those most in need. It involves teaching students the causes of climate change and the latest interventions to reverse it. It requires teaching students to get in touch with their own sorrow when they see the devastating effect climate change has on wildlife. It asks students to debate around key issues in environmental policy to whet their appetites for a career in politics or policy-making. It means teaching the potential of new technologies to overcome food and water crises to give our students an edge when it comes to solving the most pressing problems of the future.
Our students need a range of skills—not only technological—to lead intelligently, compassionately and effectively into the future. They need a sense of the fullness of their humanity. They need to know that it is safe to feel anger and fear, so they learn how to turn those feelings into wise action in the world. If you’re a parent of a child still in school, one who hasn’t turned 18 and isn’t registered to vote, teach them that their voice still matters. Ask them how they feel when they watch the news and acknowledge what they say. Let them know that they have agency in what happens to this world and to never give up hope.
By Nancy Miller