It was just a picture. But as my own life can attest to, a picture can change minds and lives. When I was in fourth grade, I saw a disturbing photograph of a sea turtle strangled by a piece of plastic pollution from the ocean. The jarring image’s immediate impact was that it spurred me to advocate recycling. At the time, my innocent mind was unaware of the science behind climate change and its detrimental effects. All I wanted was to protect the turtles from being harmed.
Now that I am more knowledgeable about the dangers that climate change poses on humanity, I have become even more determined to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle and encourage such lifestyles to others as well. Although I didn’t realize it then, the picture marked the starting point of my journey as an environmentalist and sparked my inspiration to use artwork as a tool to drive other individuals into environmentalism. Since then, I have striven to create thought-provoking artwork with themes revolving around environmental issues.
It’s the hard truth that the climate is changing, and the future of Generation Z, and those of that follow us, are at risk. According to climate reports published by the UN, oceans are rising, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, and global temperatures are increasing due to greenhouse gases emitted by humans (IPCC, 2018). These changes to the climate cause a chain reaction of consequences that are ultimately impacting the air we breathe and the food and water we consume. We are already seeing the warning signs. The weather app on the phone now tracks air quality indexes because there are increasingly more parts of the world where it is unsafe to be outside without face covering or skin protection. Local water companies periodically issue water quality reports to preempt the blame that they failed to warn about the safety of tap water.
Given the catastrophic nature and urgency of these problems, it’s shocking that climate change is not part of school curriculums in the U.S. (Kamenetz, 2019). Almost none of my knowledge as an environmentalist came from school as I never learned about climate science or the environmental movement in the classroom. There are surely many students who are unaware of the severity of environmental issues because they have not been given the information. But Generation Z and future generations deserve to be educated on issues that will directly impact their very lives.
In 2019, Italy added climate change and sustainability lessons as mandatory subjects in elementary through high school (Mezzofiore, 2019). Environmental education is critical in teaching students about the consequences of climate change and how to mitigate the effects and instilling the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle from a young age. With Italy taking the lead in environmental education, the American education system must add climate and sustainability lessons as a permanent component as well. In fact, according to an NPR poll, 84% of U.S. parents and 86% of teachers support teaching climate change in school (Kamenetz, 2019). More specifically, the environmental education curriculum should be designed in a way that effectively incorporates creativity with scientific information about climate change to raise awareness on environmental issues. My encounter with a photo was the genesis of my environmental “artivism,” and a research study published in The Journal of Issues and Research also finds a correlation between creative arts in curriculums and enhanced learning (Marshall, 2015). Using teaching methods that integrate visual art, storytelling, and other creative outlets, especially for younger children, makes climate change more of an approachable subject and will help to develop the climate leaders of the future who will innovatively and creatively solve the crisis.
While education is a good first step to address the climate crisis, it is simply not enough. The responsibility and burden of saving the environment should not be passed on to children and future generations. It is complacent to think that raising awareness and educating children alone will magically avert the problems that are already affecting all of humanity. There is no time for us to wait for today’s children to grow up and start building a society and economy that prioritizes and protects the environment.
While the preceding generations may have perceived climate change as a problem of the future, such notion is no longer acceptable to Generation Z. This is the problem of the present, and climate change will impact our lives the most. As main stakeholders, Generation Z is increasingly becoming more vocal about climate change, and rightfully so. We are demanding strong environmental leaders and policies that divest from fossil fuel, focus on renewable energy infrastructure, and put environmental issues at the center of decision making. Although many of us are too young to vote or become directly involved with the making of policies, our collective voices represent our hope, have the power to enlighten minds, and create the world we want to live in. In order to amplify our impact, we must act as leaders in uniting all global citizens, regardless of age, as “Generation Green” with the common goal of building a sustainable present and future. Such unity will foster a sense of belonging at a global level and urgency to take responsibility for our shared home.
The Year 2020 has been quite eventful and it will surely go down in history as a year of crises that future generations will learn, write, and paint about. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic will be talked about for decades and centuries to come. However, as devastating and deadly as it has been, the pandemic also came with a silver lining. As the world “took a break” with shelter-in-place and social distancing in effect, shut down factories and consumed far less fossil fuel from restricted travelling, the level of air pollutants decreased and other environmental indicators have shown some improvement (Love, 2020). This is powerfully symbolic and instills hope and confidence in people that climate change can be slowed and reversed. With Generation Z at the forefront of the global movement of Generation Green, we will lead with our words and actions and be the force that stops the climate crisis.