Skip to main content

How youth can save the planet (and how adults can support them!)

By Dylan Kelly

Four youth holding a recycling bin and their drawings for an environmental protection recycling project
Imagine for a moment being 16 years old and reading the latest climate change article shared around social media. How would you feel? What thoughts would you have about your future, society, and your place in it? Would you feel anxiety? Would you be motivated to take action?

Climate change and its impacts are a major concern for young people. A recent survey of students at one Maine high school found that 58% think about climate change daily and 48% want to engage in organized environmental action around the issue. Youth are thinking about what climate change means for their future and they want to be change agents. So what is our role as youth workers in supporting their goals?

Environmental action: How change happens

Environmental action involves deliberating, planning, implementing and reflecting on a project or action to achieve a defined environmental outcome. The focus is not on youth changing individual behaviors (e.g. turning the lights off when leaving a room), but on working as a group to physically change their environment, educate their community, advocate for policy change, or provide products or services that benefit their community’s development.

The Kids Saving the Environment 4-H Club in Cloquet, Minnesota is made up of a bunch of 8-10 year olds. They are taking environmental action to promote better waste management at their elementary school. They are planning to educate their peers using posters and a video that will be played in classrooms throughout the school.

Positive youth development leads to success

Environmental action is not easy. The youth of the Kids Saving the Environment 4-H Club face many obstacles to completing their project, from group disagreements about how to proceed to figuring out how to plan in a virtual setting. This is where their adult partners, from Carlton County 4-H, Cloquet Community Education, and Minnesota GreenCorps, come in.

Successful youth environmental action projects require quality learning environments and sound youth development principles. Youth workers can promote safe and supportive environments for youth to build skills, experiment, reflect and form their identities as environmental leaders. This intentional program design helps young people overcome the barriers that they will undoubtedly face while engaging in environmental action.

We need them and they need us

Young people are very aware of the environmental challenges they will face in the coming years. They see themselves in Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Isra Hirsi, and other famous youth climate activists. Our world needs these young change agents to succeed, and they need us to support their actions.

What environmental concerns have you heard from young people in your life? What can you do to help them take action?

-- Dylan Kelly, Extension educator

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Print Friendly and PDF