Growing up green

G Magazine

How do we teach the next generation how to appreciate the environment?


Credit: iStockphoto

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As another brilliant West Australian sunset fades into the sea, nine-year-old Ben O'Lara and I stroll along the beach toying with the surf, chasing seagulls and collecting marine debris.

Suddenly, Ben stoops to pick up a stray chip packet then turns and, through a gappy ear-to-ear grin, says, "When I grow up I think I want to be a National Park Ranger or something. That's how I can help all the animals and sometimes teach people about the environment".

He then launches into a series of elaborate (and surprisingly accurate) explanations of current environmental issues, before finishing with a flash of that smile, a pledge to ride his bike to school and a dash to the nearest rubbish bin.

It has become increasingly apparent just how crucial it is for younger generations to appreciate the enormity and complexity of the world's environment problems - after all, our kids will inherit the burden.

With climate change, water shortages, deforestation and a myriad of other eco-issues splashed across our media, though, kids like Ben and his friends are starting to become aware of why it's important to care for our planet.

However, the trend of deepening environmental knowledge, the sudden 'coolness' of green issues and the willingness of young people to put it all into action is the fruit of Australia's blossoming environmental education system.

The 2006 Australian census showed that more than a quarter of our population (25.33 per cent) are aged under 18, which is the prime learning period of life. Wishing to foster a sustainable future through eco-empowering the next generation, our educators have not overlooked this statistic.

Indeed, many feel that with positive messages and youth-led action, the time is ripe to make significant steps forward.

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