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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: The kids are alright

Teach your children well. This is sound advice to which we can all sing along thanks to 1970s folk rock, but speaking as both a parent and a former high school teacher, I have also seen time and again that for whatever and however we teach our children, they often teach us more and better if we make an effort to see the world from their vantage point.

As the Engagement and Program Coordinator for Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, reading the dozens of essays written by local high school youth for our Earth Day essay contest demonstrated this once again to be true. There are many young people right here in the Mid-Ohio Valley who acknowledge the reality of climate change and are willing to thoughtfully engage with the problem in the quest for solutions. Here are a few ways in which they impressed us with their essay submissions about carbon footprint reduction and a lesson or two that they taught us along the way.

First, it is notable that our young people are willing to openly and respectfully converse with friends, family, and neighbors about climate change, including those who may be neutral or even adverse to the topic. Not only are they willing, but a common theme running throughout the essays was their insistence that this conversation is necessary to building the awareness that precedes action and solutions.

Our first place essayist, a sophomore from Warren Local, also acknowledged that it is unrealistic to expect one’s environmental message to always fall on enthusiastic ears, but she demonstrated an admirable willingness to continue educating others, regardless. Offering a metaphor to teach us undeterred patience when encountering what appears to be disinterest, she writes, “Just because you plant a seed doesn’t mean it will grow; however, some seeds need to winter before they can sprout.”

Second, our young people demonstrate in their essays an ability to self-reflect and then consider where they might make changes in their own daily habits. They do not take new ideas that contradict their old ones as a personal affront, but approach them with a mindset of opportunity, recognizing a chance to make a positive impact. At the same time, they are realistic and honest. They know that there are limits imposed by geography, availability of resources, and even just by modern life that make it difficult or impossible for any one person to always follow every climate-friendly recommendation of which they are aware. Regardless, they refrain from despair or harsh judgment, and proceed with earnest intention toward a solution.

Third, while they are certainly willing to reflect on how personal choices affect one’s impact on climate and the environment as a whole, as we would all be wise to do, our young people also think critically about the role of systems and institutions in this global crisis. For example, our third place writer, a junior from Waterford High School, opines that a popular narrative in discussions about curbing carbon emissions places the onus disproportionately upon the average individual, while the role and responsibilities of a powerful and wealthy fossil fuel industry are meanwhile largely ignored. It can be inferred that for as long as we leave out this piece of the puzzle, we are destined to never solve it.

Along these lines, our second place finalist, a senior from Ritchie County, adds that while “personal initiative is noble and helpful, real change requires collaboration.” That is, small actions we take in our daily lives certainly matter, but they alone are not going to solve the problem. He makes note of political importance, as well, suggesting that the power of our vote and who we choose as our leaders supersedes the impact of our personal environmentalism. In short, young people lead us to the idea that our collective voices must also be used to compel economic and political systems to do their part.

There is another line from classic rock that comes to mind as I reflect on our recent essay submissions: “The kids are alright.” When it comes to our thoughtful teenage writers, I can’t help but agree. I encourage the grown-ups — myself included — to follow the lead of concerned youth on climate. If we do, they will indeed teach us well, and the planet we inhabit may just turn out alright, too.

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Angie Iafrate is the Engagement and Program Coordinator with Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action focusing on youth programs and outreach.

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