Kids are like sponges, so the saying goes, and this coupled with their awe and wonder, as described by Ella Meek in the Kids Against Plastic podcast episode, enhances their ability to learn knowledge and skills. On top of this, they have yet (hopefully) succumbed to a narrative of it can’t be done, and possibilities are still endless; behaviour patterns are less baked in, making them open to change and doing things differently. This latter point is never more important in a world where climate change will force everyone to adapt in small or large ways depending on where they live.
Kids Against Plastic
Sisters, Amy and Ella, are perfect examples of children challenging the status quo. Upon discovering facts about plastic pollution, aged 10 and 12, they were compelled to act and started with litter-picking. One of their early actions was approaching the supermarkets regarding bottled water. People often buy products to solve a problem, such as food to satisfy hunger, clothing to keep us warm and demonstrate an identity, and furniture to make our homes comfortable. In the UK, despite being fortunate in accessing clean drinking water from a tap, the development of PET plastic in the 1970s solved on-the-go water resulting in booming sales. As the sisters could see bottled water was by no means an essential item, they thought supermarkets might delist them; unsurprisingly perhaps, supermarkets did not respond positively to the request to withdraw this product line.
Undaunted by this knockback, they approached the problem from a new angle. If they couldn’t stop supply, perhaps they could make an impression on demand. They devised the Plastic Clever positive award scheme to encourage a more thoughtful consumption of single-use plastic products. They focus on plastic bottles, coffee cups and lids and plastic bags.
The efforts by Amy and Ella on plastic have resulted in their achieving the Pride of Britain Green Champions award in 2021 and BEM honours in 2022. In addition to two TEDx talks, they have published the book, Be Plastic Clever and their second book, Be Climate Clever is to be published April 2022. As they move into adulthood, they find themselves considering succession planning! I do not doubt they will continue to be an asset to a greener world.
Most of us, I imagine, can reflect on our childhood and remember people of influence outside of our families. My biology teachers at secondary school and college made a lasting impression on me and fuelled my enthusiasm for animals and nature. Two pioneering sisters from Bali, Melati and Isabel Wijsen were inspiring to Amy and Ella and instrumental in nudging the girls to take action. Like the Meeks, these now young women, started at ages 10 and 12, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, instigating an international movement against the use of plastic bags. Their motivation came from a lesson in school about significant people, covering Nelson Mandela, Lady Diana, and Mahatma Gandhi.
It seems vital that children and young people have opportunities to hear the inspirational stories of people who have accomplished goals beyond expected norms. Their curiosity should be fostered in an environment enabling their exploration and development.
Educating and facilitating environmental action of young people
Young people need education on environmental issues, their opinions need to be listened to, and they can be part of the solution. However, they should not bear responsibility for the problems we face. Our legacy to them cannot be a spiralling environmental breakdown to which they have to adapt. I think educators have a vital role. It is fantastic to see the development of a UK Sustainability Schools Network incorporating regional networks such as the Scottish Sustainability Schools Network, aiming to raise awareness of the climate and nature crises and make educational institutions more sustainable.
There are school-focused campaigns, such as the Let’s Go Zero 2030, aiming to unite teachers, students and parents to develop a plan to become net-zero; 1162 schools have signed up already. Another campaigning organisation, Teach the Future stresses good quality education on these matters is insufficient. This deficiency is through no fault of teachers, as they are confined within a curriculum, may not be provided with additional time or resources, and may not themselves be fully informed of the necessary facts. This group of secondary and tertiary students are campaigning for broad climate education across the UK, green skills in vocational courses and climate-friendly buildings by 2030. They have written the Climate Education Bill, currently being put before parliament.
Young people and the environment
The voices and futures of kids and young people matter. They have much to contribute; through challenging the behaviour of adults and systems within which they live and study and maybe taking action like Amy and Ella. Either way, they need to be part of the conversation – as their futures are most at risk.