The environmental impact of raising a child in a western country is like 10 times greater than raising a child in a developing nation (I’m not entirely sure on that statistic, but you know what I mean). Our kids eat more, they have more stuff, own more clothes, they waste more and travel more than kids ever have before. I personally know many people who have made the choice not to have children mainly because they feel guilty about the carbon footprint their offspring leave behind.
I’ve realized that teaching children to care for the environment goes beyond telling them to switch off the lights when they leave the room or taking shorter showers. It goes beyond using cloth nappies and toilet training early. It’s about creating long-term environmentally conscious citizens of the planet. Its about every one of us contributing to a solution.
1. Teach children about consumerism.
It’s nice to buy second hand toys and clothes, but tell kids why you’re doing it. Yes, you save money, but you’re also recycling! And, when you buy something new, where will it be in a week? A month? A year? Where did the thing you’re buying come from? Do you really need it? Was it made ethically or not? Who made it and in which country was it manufactured in? There’s some great topics of conversation here. What you’re doing in the long run is educating little conscious consumers by bringing up these questions. You don’t need to overwhelm kids and guilt trip them every time they want sometime. But, it’s good to raise their awareness.
2. Eat less meat and grow a veggie patch and buy local.
Kids are naturally curious about their food. The meat (and dairy) industry is estimated to contribute about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Believe it or not, scientists say that the meat and dairy industry contributes more to global green house gasses than the automobile industry! Plus, there is a lot of waste produced by farming animals. Even people who reduced their consumption of meat, significantly reduced their carbon footprint. Eating vegetarian food is really easy these days. Our family is vegetarian and it’s really no biggie. Also, kids LOVE growing food. It’s not about being able to grow enough food to make it worthwhile, it’s more about planting the seed of consumer awareness. Even a small veggie patch can produce a lot of food. And, I’ve grown a lot on just my balcony. Or, see if your town has a community garden. Kids who play and work outside have a greater respect for the planet too.
3. Take up less ‘space’.
We’re a 5 person family and we live in a 2 bedroom apartment in a town. By living where we do, we take up less space and leave more space for wildlife and nature. We have less paved surface areas (like driveways) because we share our living space (our building) with 9 other families. I know not everyone is jumping up and down to squash their family into a small apartment, and many people already have their homes, but how much space do human beings really need? The dream always seem to be a bigger house. But, do we need a bigger house to fit everything? Or, maybe do we just need to get rid of some stuff we already have and we would fit comfortably in the space we’re already using.
4. Cultivate a sense of sharing and belongingness.
When my kids ask me for the last bite of my food, that I was looking forward to eating, I usually give it to them. Why? Because I want them to feel like ‘what’s mine is yours’. When they’re about to finish the last cookie, they’ve learned to first ask everyone if it’s ok if they have the last one, and if not, they break it into pieces to share. Of course, it doesn’t always happen as beautifully as that, but that’s general idea. When we see a piece of trash on the beach, we pick it up. If there’s a community service clean-up project we can get involved with, we sign up. If we see someone who needs help, we stop to see what we can do.
Sharing and belonging are what every human being craves in this world. We all want connection and understanding. We all want to know that we are all sharing the same responsibilities. Caring for the environment starts with that feeling of belonging to the whole world and to all the people who live here! If kids are raised with a sense of connection and belonging, there’s no way they can grow up to trash the planet.