We don’t have time to educate our children...
There' so much focus on connecting children with nature; school initiatives such as Eco-Schools, Natural Connectionsand small changes to the secondary National Curriculum, national campaigns such as Project Wild Thing, and a plethora of initiatives at local level such as the Bristol Festival of Nature, Forest Schools (including mine) and the work of the Wildlife Trusts.
That's not to say that all these wonderful ideas aren't worthwhile. Indeed, children nowadays are arguably more knowledgeable on issues of sustainability than their parents. And therein lies the problem.
We simply don't have the time to wait for our knowledgeable progeny to grow up and save our planet.
Bill Oddie, in last month's BBC Nature Magazine, argues that 'the health, protection and management of the environment is not kids' work. It is adults who make the laws, pollute the land and sea, inflict death and cruelty, and it is only adults who have the power to make things better. Providing environmental education for our children is clearly laudable, but relying on the next generation to save the planet is complacent, unfair, irresponsible and unwise.' And I couldn't agree more.
There are currently 4,554 species classed as 'critically endangered' on the IUCN list of Threatened Species and 6,807 classed as 'endangered'.
Meaning 'at risk of extinction'.
And as the saying goes, extinction is forever.
Almost all of these are due to human activity, especially habitat destruction, and it is not just the actions of a few illegal loggers in far-flung rainforests that threaten the survival of so many species. It is the everyday actions of you and me that produce the consumer demand that fuels the industries that are destroying out planet: the cars we drive, the flights we take, the electricity we consume, the toilet paper we choose to buy, the food we eat and the technology we use and discard the minute the latest model comes out.
Our desire for the latest mobile phone drives demand for coltan, a key mineral used in mobile phone technology, that is illegally mined in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This results in the erosion of land, pollution of waterways and has a devastating effect on the ecology of the region, including destroying the habitat of the eastern mountain gorilla. This species is critically endangered. There are only 850 individual mountain gorillas left in the wild. It is adults who buy technology, so it is adults who need to be educated about the consequences of their actions.
On the other side of the world, the number of Sumatran orangutans left in the wild is decreasing rapidly. It is estimated that they will disappear within the next five to ten years. That's at least ten years before any of my friends' children will have the skills, education or influence to change a thing. And by then it will be far too late.
But all is not lost. Yet. Simple actions, such as the choice of biscuits you buy, could prevent the extinction of the orangutan.
Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil, a high yield crop that is used in everything from biscuits and bread to shampoo and cleaning products, demanded by people like you and me. The average Westerner will consume ten kilos of palm oil in a single year. Yes, even if you buy organic. Palm oil plantations are destroying both primary and secondary rainforests at an alarming rate. All so that you and I can have cheap biscuits and shiny hair. Even 'sustainable' palm oil is questionable, but that's for another blog. The point is, that without knowing it, many of us are contributing to the permanent destruction of a keystone species and all the less exciting plants and animals that form part of the same ecosystem. All for a biscuit or a loaf of bread that we can't be bothered to make ourselves.
And those are just a couple of decisions that you and I get to make. I've not even touched upon the law-makers, heads of industry, all those with unfathomable power that choose to put profit before planet.
We need to be selfish. Stuff the kids. With increasing life expectancy and decreasing time-scales of extinction, unspeakable things are going to happen in our own lifetime. In fact, maybe even before you move to your next house, or change your current job. Education and learning is not just for children. We need to take an interest in our natural world and how our own consumption affects it. We need to be accountable for our own learning and seek out the facts about the state of our planet. We don't sit in classrooms all day and get fed information so we need to do it ourselves.
We need to question, take responsibility and change. The future of our planet is in our hands, not those of our children.