April 20, 2017
On the heels of Easter Sunday, there’s another holiday to celebrate: Earth Day 2017. Earth Day may not be as steeped in tradition as other national, international, and religious holidays, but it’s an important day for all of us who consider ourselves a part of the conservation community.
While Earth Day is not as old as, say, Easter, the Earth Day Network has been mobilizing people for the environment every April for decades. The first Earth Day, celebrated in April 1970, engaged 20 million Americans in the Earth Day Network’s mission, which is to “diversify, educate, and activate the environmental movement worldwide.” Since then, Earth Day has gone global, today engaging millions of people in 100+ countries.
There is no single way to celebrate Earth Day. Some organizations hold events focused on issue awareness or simply the celebration of nature. Environmental advocate groups may organize politically motivated marches on Earth Day, or individuals may take the opportunity to share their love for Planet Earth with friends and family on social media. As the authors of a zoology book for middle-grade readers (Zoology for Kids, 2015) that, as one of its goals, helps familiarize kids with conservation challenges facing Earth’s wildlife and wild places, my husband Josh and I choose to focus our Earth Day efforts on educating and empowering the next generation.
This Earth Day, April 22, we’ll be celebrating at the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista, California. Living Coast’s Earth Day event aims to engage kids and their families with nature through hands-on activities, such as a beach cleanup, a plant scavenger hunt, and a Shorebird Survivor game. We’ll be hosting a food chain activity that encourages kids to think about how everything in nature is connected. We believe this type of outreach is crucially important to the future of our planet. Kids may not have the funds to donate to causes or the political influence their counterparts of voting age have, but they do have brains, and they do have voices.
Perhaps the best reason to engage kids in conservation discussions is because they will do what all kids do—grow up. Youth who care about wildlife and wild places often become adults who care about wildlife and wild places. Today’s youth are the teachers, engineers, CEOs, and government leaders of tomorrow. If encouraged to develop their passion for the natural world and given the tools to discern global problems and come up with creative solutions, kids will be in a better position to make decisions down the road that will protect the planet for their successors.
Earth Day is about more than protecting the future planet, of course; it’s about finding solutions to today’s pressing challenges. From planning efforts to save species on the brink of extinction, like the vaquita, to raising awareness about the devastating effects of the illegal wildlife trade, the current generation can’t afford to wait for the next generation to clean up today’s messes. However, involving kids in conservation discussions is an important way the conservation community can prepare today’s youth for the inevitable pass of the baton. After all, as the saying goes, there is no Planet B.