You can use the link below to see a powerpoint “elevator speech” summary of the full research paper posted below. The paper draws from four sources: first, Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods (2005); second, a longitudinal data set collected over 30 years and analyzed by Wray-Lake et al. (2010), third, a Hamilton College Youth Poll (2007), and fourth, my own surveys from the high school where I am an administrator and coordinator of our green campus initiatives. From these data, I sketch and evaluate the quality of teens’ preparation for the generational transfer of stewardship for a planet in generalized crisis, and suggest crucial components of an environmental curriculum for today’s teens.
Teens’ Environmental Ethic (Powerpoint summary)
The American Adolescent’s Environmental Ethic: Educating Leaders for an Uncertain Future
“Today’s children will likely confront challenges we can hardly begin to imagine in a radically altered, unrecognizable world. Can we responsibly continue preparing them for business as usual? And if not, what can we do to make them ready for a survival game in which wild cards rule?”
—Dianne Dumanoski, author of The End of the Long Summer
As we pitched our tent and unloaded the bikes from the roof of the car, my fourteen-year-old whined, “Why can’t we spend our vacations at a hotel with a hot-tub, like normal families?” Although ten years later an avid outdoorswoman, her attitude at fourteen epitomizes the American teenager’s environmental worldview. Ask the teens in the school where I work how much time they spend each day on Facebook, listening to their i-pods, texting, or driving around in a car just to kill time. Ask them how many pairs of jeans or shoes are in their closets, and if they feel like they have enough “stuff.” In my school of 1600 students, only eight are regular attendees at the Environmental Club meetings—that’s only 0.5%, a pathetic showing for the children of the supposedly enlightened Baby Boom generation, the creators of the first Earth Day.
Americans, teens included, are leaving carbon-heavy footprints on a path into the century during which the symptoms of global climate change will collide with the physical, social, cultural, and economic structures of 10,000 years of human civilization. As this collision changes the face of the planet and the game for all organisms living on it, we will find ourselves in dire need of environmental leaders to help us through the impending dislocations. The data we will examine here implies that such future leaders may be too rare and too few to have an impact, unless right now we manage to reconnect and re-engage a younger generation with the natural world, and set them on a path toward developing the skills they will need for the task ahead. Continue reading →