December 6, 2019

In praise of brave students and teachers who love our planet

These are depressing times for environmentalists – and anyone who breathes air. The Trump Administration gutted the Clean Air Act this summer, eviscerated regulations on 85 known pollutants and vowed to back out of the global effort to end man-made climate change.

America is no longer a leader pledging to transition from dirty fossil-fuels to cleaner renewable energy. To employ the vulgar parlance of Trump, we have become “a shit-hole country” when it comes to caring about the future of our children, our grandchildren and the planet.

One of the most heart-breaking moves by Trump is the removal of restrictions on releasing toxic mercury into the environment from coal-fired plants. Those regulations have received unwavering support from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Evangelical Environmental Network. Such support should be an easy call for any religious or spiritual person – please, let us not poison our babies.

When The Journal asked me for an opinion piece on air pollution, I knew it would be tempting to launch into a rant about the damage being done globally by our country. Lesli Moylan, the new head of the Missouri Environmental Education Association (MEEA), cautions against such rants.  Moylan said too many young people feel distraught and dispirited by what she calls “eco-anxiety.” Try to offer them some hope, she suggests.  

Moylan invited me to attend the October conference of MEEA in St. Louis to assuage my own “eco-anxiety.” It was encouraging to hear the keynotes from Louise Bradshaw of the Saint Louis Zoo and Sheila Voss of the Missouri Botanical Garden. These leaders made it clear what impressive scientific and educational resources we have in St. Louis to make the case for responsible environmental stewardship of our city, our state, our nation, our planet.

High school and elementary school educators followed up the MEEA keynotes with valuable seminar sessions on topics such as STEM and Sustainability, Geo-Literacy and Place-based Environmental Education, Advocating for Wildlife, Power of Nature Literature for Children, River Habitat and Bio-Diversity and much more. 

Webster University faculty and students should consider membership in MEEA, which now has 550 members. The costs are low, and the rewards are high. It’s an excellent resource for grants and professional connections on the environment. It’s an excellent antidote to the anger or paralysis caused by eco-anxiety.

MEEA has had a few vocal critics under the capitol dome in Jefferson City. Some legislators oppose the advocacy portion of the MEEA mission. They also see teaching sustainability in the classroom as a partisan intrusion, rather than a moral imperative or a character-building activity.

Moylan concedes that environmental education does come under fire. She said young students are keenly aware of how teen environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, has been bullied and threatened for her stands on climate issues.

“Students in St. Louis have been talking about Thunberg,” said Moylan. “She has shown bravery. Students and teachers need to also be brave and learn how to advocate for the planet and their future.”

Swedish activist Thunberg was recently at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York where she called for older Americans to take responsibility for the sad environmental legacy they are leaving their children. Students across America joined in her call and participated in climate awareness strikes in cities such as St. Louis. For this, the young people were called jerks, idiots, anti-capitalists and communists.

All the attack dogs should lay off the brave students and their teachers and take a little timeout to study Thomas Edison. This entrepreneur, scientist and inventor opposed carbon pollutants. Edison would certainly side with today’s young people. 

“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide,” declared Edison. “I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Thomas Edison was not a jerk, an idiot, an anti-capitalist or a communist. Nor are the students and teachers asking for some tender loving care of the only Earth that we have.

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