Young people and future generations are set to suffer most from the changing climate and immense environmental degradation (species loss, polluted air, and water, etc.), largely generated over the past several decades. It makes sense to educate children on these critical matters and discuss them. I suggest that young people challenge adults by asking them what are you doing to address climate change and the other environmental and public health problems that you are passing on to me? As a way to stimulate the conversation of environmental degradation with my young grandchildren (4, 5 and 7 years old), a poster in the garage shows pictures of the consequences of climate change and pollution – the deficiency of care toward the natural world.
One picture is a photograph of a polar bear on an ice formation barely large enough for the bear. This picture represents a grave consequence of intensified melting of glacial ice due to a warming planet. According to NASA’s GRACE satellite imaging, Alaskan glaciers lost an average of 46 gigatons of ice each year from 2003 to 2010. A study published this year in Nature Climate Change revealed that the world’s glaciers are the smallest they have been in human history. Currently, in Greenland, warmer than normal temperatures are causing extreme ice melt. As the warming climate reduces glacial ice, sea level rises. It is no surprise that wildlife is disturbed and the polar bear picture is one way of showing this problem. However, since most people do not experience these direct effects of climate change, the problem is regularly disregarded as something not imminently important or for someone else to handle.
When our grandchildren inquire about the picture, we tell them that many factors have been creating warmer earth and the greatest contributor has been the burning of fossil fuel. We explain the alternatives, demonstrated by the small solar-powered fountain in the backyard; we talk about how science and engineering continue to move forward in the creation of solar cells and other clean energy technologies. Adults should agree that we have a responsibility for these critical problems; we should also agree that we need to drastically reduce the burning of fossil fuels. We all need to make lifestyle changes and ensure the political will exists to address these problems. The poster also has this Saint Francis prayer, “Praised be You my Lord through our Sister Mother Earth who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
I will continue to suggest that all children ask adults, what are you doing to address climate change and the other environmental and public health problems that you are passing on to the children of this world? Caring for Mother Earth is our moral obligation.
“We need to act now, and act collaboratively to help the world overcome an ecological holocaust.” Cardinal Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work