By Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore
This spring I have been busy with the development and facilitation of an exciting new pilot program. “Climate and Place: The Future is Here” is designed for middle school students in Grades 6-8. In this workshop, students collaborate together to learn more about climate change solutions. It is based on Sierra Club BC’s vision document The Future is Here.
The Climate and Place workshop creates opportunities for students to critically observe and evaluate the behavioural patterns of individuals and communities in their home place, within the urgent context of climate change. Coast Salish teachings are entwined throughout the program using stories and cultural examples to facilitate discussion about taking care of the earth for future generations.
In this workshop students are provided an opportunity to voice their opinion on climate change in an open and respectful environment. They apply their knowledge and experience with their community to solutions that can address climate change impacts. They brainstorm ideas such as riding a bike or walking to school instead of getting a ride in a car, establishing and supporting recycling and composting programs in their school, and spending more time outside in nature.
My hope is that the Climate and Place program inspires and advocates for change, where necessary, in our school communities and local neighbourhoods. During the experiential community walk, students make observations as they walk through their local neighbourhood and look critically at what they see happening in the context of climate change. Has anyone in the neighbourhood installed solar panels? Is there a recycling and composting program taking place? Are people growing their own food in backyards and community gardens?
The “Turtle Island” activity engages students in problem solving and encourages them to come up with possible solutions to major causes of climate change, such as old-growth logging and the fossil fuel industry. In one recent class, students stood on a tarp representing Turtle Island as climate problems were presented. They began to experience uncomfortable circumstances as the tarp became smaller and smaller. They had to stand increasingly closer and closer to one another. As students suggested their ideas for possible solutions, the tarp became larger and the people standing on the tarp became more comfortable with their surroundings.
“As we reduce our use of fossil fuels, reconnect children to nature and enforce sustainable harvesting practices in our forestry industry, we all here on Turtle Island will have a chance to continue to be healthy and happy.” – Grade 7 student
Students also really enjoyed the canoe journey activity. This is a facilitated discussion to help guide students to voice their opinion and make statements about how climate change is personally impacting their lifestyle and behavioral choices in their home and community.
“I learned today how we all play a role in creating an environment that will be sustainable through our choices such as how we travel to school each day or if we use plastic bags at the grocery store.” – Grade 7 student
“I never knew that spending time outside was so valuable and important in the fight against climate change and nature deficit in children in our society today.” – Grade 8 student
Overall, this program has actually been a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs. It can be challenging to get this age group to speak up and share how they feel about the environment within the urgent context of climate change. Some students feel that it doesn’t matter—that their opinions don’t count.
“No one ever listens to how we feel we should be taking care of the planet.” – Grade 6 student
I also discovered how much it varies between communities in terms of how children are mentored to show concern for the environment.
“How can my school be more involved in reducing the impacts of climate change?” – Grade 6 student
“Why do we have a pack in/pack out rule for garbage at our school?” – Grade 8 student
Every school is doing something. The biggest challenge I see within middle schools is how they can purposefully make the connection between their actions and the expectations they have for their students, nature and the climate. For some students, this was the first time they had ever heard about the reality of how climate change will impact our lives here in BC.
The reality is that climate change is happening and students need to become aware of their role and how they can play a part in creating solutions. They are the future and they must be given the opportunity to be mentored in protecting nature and spending time outside so they can learn how their actions will directly impact their future lives.
- Stabilize our climate, by leaving fossil fuels in the ground, reducing our emissions and increasing the price on carbon.
- 2. Defend intact nature to preserve biodiversity and natural carbon banks, and protect the ecosystem services on which human economies and health depend.
- Rapidly transition to an equitable post-carbon economy that leaves no one behind.
Communities taking the lead on solar energy: