Our future is in our hands
How do you teach people to care about the environment? You bring it to them. You literally connect them.
This is what I did yesterday with an impromptu exercise in my ENG 101 class. My students feel really bad that the planet is being destroyed, but like many people, they feel hopeless and helpless to do anything about it.
So I decided to show them that little things make a difference. I did this by giving each of them an acorn. I asked if they knew what it was, where it came from, and what it was for. A few knew it was an acorn; one student knew it was from an oak tree; and several said "the squirrels eat them" or "it will grow into a baby tree."
I asked them to hold the acorn in the palm of their hand and imagine this tiny nut growing into a giant tree that could live hundreds of years, provide food and shelter for over 500 species, remove CO2 from the atmosphere and provide oxygen for us to breathe, and how it is a descendent of trees that sustained indigenous people for thousands of years who used it to make flour and food. I suddenly had their full attention.
Then I asked them what would happen if the trees that produced these acorns were all cut down. Immediately, they saw how devastating that would be to the interdependent web of life that exists because of those trees.
We then talked about the causes of climate change, the short and long term effects, and the impact on the ecosystem and the communities in which they live. At that point they were all rooting for the tiny little acorn they held in their hands.
Then I introduced them to the concept of "reciprocity" and shared Robin Wall Kimmerer's brilliant essay "The Honorable Harvest" with them. I asked them how our world would be different if everyone practiced these methods of taking only what you need and not for greed, asking permission, never taking the last of something, and always giving back.
I asked them to imagine making decisions based on how those decisions would affect descendants seven generations into the future, and how decisions made by our ancestors seven generations in the past affect us today.
"We would have fresh air." "There would be clean water to drink." "Our oceans wouldn't be polluted with plastic."
I left them with these thoughts to ponder and asked them to practice reciprocity with the acorn by placing it in their yard for the animals to eat or digging a hole and planting it in the ground.
I'm hoping this lesson taught them that little things matter, and by making mindful decisions in their daily lives they can have a positive impact on the world.