Perspectives is an ongoing series by the Cari-Bois Environmental News Network which aims to give Caribbean scientists, explorers and nature enthusiasts the platform to express themselves. This latest piece was written by Environment Tobago manager Sean McCoon.
With sustainable development at the core of environmental policies, it’s important that decision makers pair these policies with strategic action to sufficiently empower the next generation to be environmental custodians.
While this goal may seem elusive, it is possible for children to become changemakers who lead the charge – on environmental causes – for the next generation.
In schools, children may be taught about local folklore characters like Papa Bois who live in harmony with the natural environment and serve as its protector.
But such literature can also be considered as a starting point to teach young children to become more environmentally conscious and begin revamping our education system to be more environmentally focused.
With climate change and other environmental issues accelerating at alarming rates, a comprehensive approach to empowering the next generation is needed with little to no time to waste.
The importance of Tobagonians being more environmentally conscious
A challenge faced in developing environmental policies is not just protecting the natural environment but also having an effective enforcement system where justice is served against those who perpetuate harmful or detrimental acts in or around the natural environment.
The indiscriminate dumping of waste at the foothills of Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve can be used as an example to show this discrepancy.
While it is expected that solid waste will be generated, illegal dumping and other unsustainable environmental practices should not be.
In such a scenario, it may be common to point fingers at the legal framework or the ‘powers that be’.
But in actuality, structures to address such issues already exist and it is often a lack of enforcement which leads to the proliferation of unsustainable practices.
Effectively utilising the country’s protective services, and perhaps even those that are charged with the responsibility of being gatekeepers for environmental conservation, is needed.
However, these actions will be futile if citizens aren’t also more environmentally conscious.
Revamping the goals of “education”
Traditionally, the education system has been branded as a tool by which a person can climb the economic ladder.
As such, some children may only see education from the perspective of gaining material possessions.
While it’s debatable whether this approach to the outcomes of a comprehensive education is healthy or not, it cannot be ignored that education is also a tool for reform, edification and empowerment.
Our local education system can no longer “boast” of being a blend of that which was handed down from the colonial past and several culturally submerged norms and principles.
Our changing world, and its environmental challenges, require the need for revamping how we view education.
Therefore, it is important to insert principles that engender a sense of pride and protection for the environment.
Education should now reaffirm in the minds of young children that there is importance in protecting, preserving and conserving nature.
Existing social structures key to education reform
Existing community based initiatives like police youth clubs and environmental groups should be considered when revamping the education system because they already have experience in creating community based projects which can be good practical experience for children.
Involving children in community projects such as the rehabilitation of physical spaces can be pivotal to teaching them to have greater responsibility in environmental custodianship.
Tools which can also be used to teach children more environmentally sustainable practices include:
- Creating food banks to teach the value of financial literacy through crop cultivation on a small scale
- Encouraging “trade negotiations” between various groups to teach children sustainable livelihood practices.
Food and agriculture stakeholders also play a crucial in the movement to combat climate change, poverty and hunger.
Incorporating sustainable agriculture into a reformed education system aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development goal.
If children can see that there are financial incentives in sustainable agricultural ventures, there is the additional benefit of them being encouraged, assisted and guided in the direction of sustainability.
Youth and Climate Action
As the rate of climate change continues to accelerate, it is important that young people and children continue to lead discussions, spread awareness, motivate others to take action and take action themselves.
In Tobago, there is an opportunity to use the aforementioned police youth clubs and community based groups to advance the participation of youths in the climate fight by developing their skills, talents and oratory prowess(as done in the Youth Assembly Legislature sessions).
In doing so, organisations like UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP may also be inclined to support whether it be financially or otherwise.
No time left to waste for youth empowerment
Promoted through activities that help young people develop social, ethical, emotional, physical, and cognitive competencies, youth development is a process that prepares a young person to meet their full potential.
Incorporated in the youth development process are lessons on youth leadership which supports young people in:
- Assessing their strengths and weaknesses
- Setting personal and vocational goals
- Honing their self-esteem and confidence
- Harnessing sources of motivation to execute their abilities
A comprehensive youth development framework also assists young people in developing their ability to guide or direct others on a course of action, influence opinions and behaviours, and serve as a role model.
What better cause than the environment to create role models and heroes?
Young people can now take up the mantle of those that have gone before us to champion efforts that may seem minimal from the face of it, but in the long term, be a shining beacon of hope.