By Michael J. Caduto
The moment we decide to fulfill something, we can do anything. -Greta Thunberg to the Houses of Parliament, UK
When I first started writing to educate children, parents and teachers about climate change, there was no shortage of materials about greenhouse gases—explaining how carbon pollution was changing the weather, melting glaciers, raising sea levels and impacting people’s lives around the world. However, soon after I began presenting a renewable energy program for kids called Energy Rocks I encountered a deep-seated concern among youth struggling with the size and scope of this overarching environmental issue.
Children’s inherent empathy leads them to want to do something about issues that have a detrimental affect people and the natural world, especially plants and animals. But climate change doesn’t easily lend itself to clear-cut projects like Pennies for Peace or setting up a school-wide recycling program. Some students are vexed by the complexity of climate change; some feel that the issue is so grand they cannot take meaningful personal action to help solve the problem; still others see it as a challenge to meet head-on. One thing is clear: In order for children to know what can be done to mitigate climate change, they must have a solid understanding of how our actions are affecting the environment, as well as what kinds of natural and physical forces can be used to solve the related problems.
In order to bring climate change action to an individual scale, I focused on a phenomenon that I call The Power of One: Every single positive action taken by each individual adds up to have a meaningful impact. For example, when forty-five kids convince their parents to replace just one incandescent light bulb at home withan energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulb, they save more than enough electricity to power all of the lighting for an entire household. If every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an LED, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nine billion pounds each year—equivalent to taking 800,000 cars off the road. And if each and every household in the United States started drying clothes online instead of using a clothes dryer, we would immediately reduce the demand for electricity by enough to shut down thirty average-sized coal-fired power plants. Every action we take to cut down on energy use and generate renewable energy combines with the actions of others to produce a positive synergistic effect in fighting climate change.
The book that was eventually published, Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun, explores climate change and includes activities for helping to solve the problem. It then takes a critical step beyond—helping youth to understand the principles behind the forces of nature so that they can harness the power of the sun and wind to generate renewable energy for use in everyday life. To those ends, it covers essential concepts in physics, such as how electromagnetic energy is generated by wind turbines and when pedaling a bicycle generator.
Still, something else was needed; inspirational stories about young people who have responded to environmental challenges with projects and programs that are building a brighter future. Young people from North America to the United Arab Emirates are creating innovative projects—including the “Cool Coventry Club” (Connecticut) which encourages commitments to reduce energy consumption, generates renewable energy and cuts back on greenhouse gases; mini water turbines (Indonesia) that utilize the energy from local waterfalls to generate hydroelectric power for rural mountain villages; and anti engine-idling campaigns in Vermont, Utah and Manitoba.
The common element among all of these successful projects is that the children used local resources, employed by virtue of their own ingenuity, to make a real contribution toward fighting climate change and other environmental problems. They demonstrated that the solutions are all around us—blowing in the wind, shining down from our home star and flowing through remote mountain streams. These “Green Giants” show that it is possible to (literally) set and run our clocks by using the forces of nature; to create a new world of renewable energy in which fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) will become obsolete.
We adults have left today’s children with a legacy of environmental problems on a global scale. In addition to doing all we can to solve these problems in our lifetimes, we can provide young people with the knowledge and skills they need, as well as a sense of their own personal power, so that they can understand how to live in balance with the environment today and create a sustainable future. Saving our home planet also happens to be an exciting, empowering and fun way to connect with other youth on a common cause.
This is the first of a 3-part series on teaching children about climate change. Forthcoming: First-hand experiences from local teachers and youth on global warming education and action.
This 10-watt (12-volt) Economy DIY Kit teaches the basics of solar electricity generation while storing enough power each day to light a student’s LED desk lamp for 16 hours. Photo: Michael J. Caduto
What you can do:
Become inspired by young climate-change activists by visiting the following websites:
- Change the World Kids (changetheworldkids.org)
- Action for Nature Eco-Heroes (actionfornature.org)
- Young Voices on Climate Change (youngvoicesfortheplanet.com)