SHAKING UP THE CONSERVATION CONVERSATION WITH KIDS
For nearly four decades we've been telling kids the same story about sustainability while our collective consumption rates continue to skyrocket. Instead of focusing on limited solutions, It's time to ask big picture questions.
What’s wrong with our current definition of sustainability for kids?
Sustainability is defined as: "the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance."
But what does ‘not being harmful to the environment’ actually mean? Where do we draw the line on ‘harmful’? Who draws that line? And how can we inspire kids to ask the kinds of questions that will lead them to viable solutions for the future of our planet?
Many children’s books on environmental issues focus on simple things that kids can do to reduce their ecological impact and to help them feel empowered. Though well intentioned, this is a wasted opportunity to teach kids how to look at our collective consumption problem through wider lenses, at a crucial point in their lives before their consumption habits have become engrained and when they’re most vulnerable to powerful marketing influences. We can do better, and we need to do better.
’’Recycling alone is not a game-changer. It was a good way to start the conversation and raise awareness, but we’ve been talking since the 1970s and in that time 50% of our planet’s biodiversity has been lost.’’
Ecological sustainability is not about adopting solutions that are overly motivated by profit for a select few. Though they may solve a specific targeted problem, these types of solutions are often at the expense of someone or something which is easy to exploit.
Ecological sustainability is also not about making minor changes to our high-consumption lifestyle and ‘hoping for the best’ with solutions that are too limited in scope to make a real difference.
‘Reduce, reuse, recycle' is an example of the latter. At the level of the individual consumer, we’re still overly focused on recycling and recycling alone is not a game-changer. It was a good way to start the conversation and raise awareness, but we’ve been talking since the 1970s and in that time 50% of our planet’s biodiversity has been lost, much of it due to the conversion of rainforests into palm oil plantations to produce things like lipstick, shampoo and instant noodles.
Not more than 100 years ago, even city-dwelling kids had a much better understanding and appreciation for where things come from, where they go, and the people who make them. You didn’t have to make an effort to ‘buy local’, global waste trade was unheard of, and mass production hadn’t yet dominated modern commerce. Kids made do with less, a lot less. They weren’t exposed to the same level of cunning advertising messages telling them what they need to have or who they need to be in order to ‘succeed’. Compound that by the competitive and comparative framework on which our modern education system is founded and it’s clear why kids today need a lot more than reduce-reuse-recycle if we hope to save Mama Earth.
Learning to think beyond ‘reduce-reuse-recycle’
Relative to the span of civilization on our planet, the massive scale of environmental degradation that we’re experiencing today is incredibly recent. The air is polluted by things like the cars we drive and the chemicals in all the plastic we consume, the soil is polluted by the industries that produce our cars and plastic, the water is polluted by the oil that is extracted and transported to fuel the cars we drive and the plastic that we toss... you see where we’re going with this. Everything is connected.
It’s scary when you consider how much damage we’ve done in such a short amount of time, but there is hope in knowing that we can decide to change the course on which we’re headed and reach unprecedented levels of collective awareness and cooperation.
Solving the environmental problems that we face by sticking to the same value system that got us here is impossible. At this point, anything less than a paradigm shift isn‘t going to cut it.
Let’s quickly go back to the late 19th century with a historical reference that illustrates this point. In London of 1894, horses were both the primary mode of transportation and a major source of pollution, generating literal tons of manure and urine on a daily basis. You couldn’t cross the street without side-stepping in it and in 1894 the Times of London predicted that… “In 50 years, every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure.”
So, what happened? London didn’t drown in horse poo, of course, because by 1912 horses were replaced by motorized transport. It came to be known as the ‘Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894’ and it’s often cited as an example of how technology will lead us out of seemingly impossible situations, such as the ones created today in our high-consumption culture: plastic pollution, climate change, deforestation…
’’To use the example above as a metaphor, focusing on recycling is like thinking of ways to revolutionize the collection of horse poo when the kinds of solutions we need to be teaching kids to aspire to are at the level of motorized transport.’’
To use the example above as a metaphor, focusing on recycling is like thinking of ways to revolutionize the collection of horse poo when the kinds of solutions we need to be teaching our kids to aspire to are at the level of motorized transport.
That’s not to say that the 3 Rs don’t have their place in teaching children ecological literacy. In fact, learning to prioritize our efforts is critical, and when we look at more recent interpretations of the 3 Rs inspired by the zero waste movement, we find that they are in fact prioritized and have been expanded to 5 Rs in the following order:
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse Recycle, Rot (composting)
There are many other innovative solutions that are currently being pioneered by talented folks in both the non- and for-profit sectors all around the world. Below is just a partial list of some of our favorites.
Of the 100 solutions presented in Project Drawdown’s list for reducing greenhouse gases by 2050, educating girls in developing countries is ranked number 6. And the most astounding thing about The Ocean CleanUp, an ambitious project which aims to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years, is the fact that its founder, Boyan Slat, conceived his revolutionary idea while still in high school! Slat, who calls himself ‘an inventor since birth’, was able to make such an incredible discovery because he was inspired to look for unconventional solutions instead of conforming to cookie-cutter ones.
How can we encourage more kids to adopt this kind of attitude?
The Big PickSure Book: A wider perspective on our evolving consumption problem
In the words of Aristotle, ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.’
That’s why The Big PickSure Book encourages kids to ask feeling-revealing questions about the things they choose to use. The scope of the questions points to where kids’ values lie and leverages positive traits which kids are blessed with in abundance: open-mindedness, justice, compassion and curiosity.
What are the ‘big picture’ questions that frame the story in The Big PickSure Book and why do we think they’ll help kids grow up to become conscious consumers who can help solve our global garbage problem with solutions that go further than recycling?
ABOUT THE MAKING OF THE BIG PICKSURE BOOK
In the printing and promotion of this book we've taken extra measures to ensure sustainable practices and avoid the monoculture. This includes selling through independent channels, selecting the highest quality recycled materials, using minimal packaging, and printing locally so we could pay a fair price to our friendly production studio, EcoPrint.