The good news is, there is a solution to our problems. In fact, the solution is obvious. We need to use less energy and we need to stop burning coal, oil, natural gas, and wood.
HOW ARE WE GOING TO DO THAT?
The sun shines. The wind blows. Why do we need to burn stuff to create energy? We don’t. We just need to switch to other sources of energy. There are plenty of them. Solar. Wind. Nuclear. Hydroelectric. Geothermal. Ethanol. Biofuel. Hydrogen fuel cells.
We don’t have to invent these things. They already exist. But up until recently oil has been cheap and the world became addicted to it, like a person becomes addicted to drugs. The way to kick that habit is to change attitudes. And this is where YOU can have a big impact.
ME? I’M JUST A KID!
What can a kid do? When you’re a kid, you sometimes feel powerless in a world run by grownups. You can’t even stay up past your bedtime. You can’t get your allowance raised.
But kids CAN change the world. It was kids who–to a large extent–put an end to the Vietnam war. It was college kids who invented the personal computer, started Microsoft and Google. It is mainly teenagers who fight our wars, create our music, and determine what kinds of TV shows and movies get made.
Politicians listen to voters. Business leaders listen to customers. Teachers learn from students. And parents can learn from their children.
Kids often teach their parents how to use computers, cell phones, DVD players, and other technologies so many adults find baffling. Parents need to be taught about the looming environmental crisis the same way. And kids are the ones who need to teach them.
Kids need to convince grownups that conserving gasoline and switching to other sources of energy should be a national priority. We need Congress to pass laws requiring carmakers to build more fuel efficient cars. We need laws that reward cities and companies that switch to renewable sources of energy. We need laws that punish companies and governments that cut down rainforests, pollute air and water, drive animals and plants to extinction, and threaten the very existence of the human race.
NO WAY! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE!
Oh yeah? When I was five, President Kennedy said America should send a human being to the moon within ten years. It sounded like science fiction at the time. Man hadn’t even been into space yet. But Kennedy’s words captured our imaginations. A massive national effort was undertaken, and when I was fourteen, Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon and said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Now we need to undertake ANOTHER massive national effort. America needs to switch from burning oil to using renewable sources of energy. That would be an even bigger leap for mankind than putting a foot on the moon. And it can be done.
First by changing attitudes and then by changing laws.
Attitudes can change. When I was a kid, there were still places in America where black and white people were not allowed to drink from the same water fountain. Can you believe that? There were separate hotels, restaurants, and bathrooms for blacks and whites. There was blatant discrimination against minorities, women, the handicapped, and gay people when I was a kid.
And today—we have an African-American president! Our society is far from perfect, but doesn’t it sound UNTHINKABLE that people would be forced to drink from separate water fountains? Attitudes about prejudice and discrimination have dramatically changed, and laws along with them. Attitudes and laws about the environment can change too, and kids can lead the way.
WHAT CAN I DO?
First, educate your parents.
When you were younger, your parents taught you how to ride a bike, how to tie your shoes, and how to catch a ball. Now, it’s up to YOU to educate THEM.
Most grownups don’t realize how serious our environmental problems are. They’re busy with their jobs, trying to put food on the table for you every night. They may be caring for your grandparents too. It’s not as easy as it looks, being a parent.
But you know how serious the world’s problems are, because you’re reading these words. Your parents care deeply about you and your future. If you tell them something is important to you, they will listen.
Talk to them about the facts and ideas you’re reading here. Clip articles from the newspaper about the environment and put them on your parents’ pillow. Yell at them! The next time your mother tells you to clean your room, tell her you will when she cleans the atmosphere.
GET A NEW CAR!
You may not know this, but some cars will drive about ten miles on a gallon of gas while other cars can go more than fifty miles with the same amount of gas. Five times as far! If your family can go fifty miles on one gallon of gas, obviously you’ll use a lot less gas than a family whose car can only go ten miles on a gallon. You’ll not only be burning less gas, you’ll also be creating less pollution, sending less money to Saudi Arabia or some other oil-rich country, and you’ll be preventing global warming. Now THAT’s patriotic.
Imagine if EVERY driver in America used a fifth of the gas they’re burning now?
In general, big cars use more gas because they are heavier. Car companies make more money by selling big cars. But if the kids of America talked their parents out of driving those cars, the auto companies would be FORCED to stop making them. They build what people want to buy.
You may have heard about hybrids–cars that have two engines. One runs on gas, and the other runs on electricity. Hybrids are the cars that can squeeze more than fifty miles out of a gallon of gas.
LOSE THAT GAS GUZZLER!
Your parents may drive a sport utility vehicle, or SUV. These are the cars that only go 10-15 miles on a gallon of gas. A small number of people NEED to drive an SUV because they live in an area where the roads are too rough for regular cars. But if your parents don’t need an SUV and they’re driving one anyway, it’s your job to nag and whine and complain about it until they switch to a car that doesn’t waste so much gas.
Tell your parents they should get rid of that SUV, not just to save gas, but to save them money, to create less pollution, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and prevent global warming and all the environmental problems discussed here.
You can also help your parents drive LESS. Most of us just hop in the car without a second thought. Ask your folks–Do you really need to make that trip? Can that trip be combined with another errand? Could they walk? Could they take a bike? (They’ll live longer) Could they carpool with somebody else who is going to the same place?
Convince your parents to use mass transit if it is available. If your mom or dad drives an hour or more to work each day, suggest they find a job closer to home. Or maybe they can work at home some of the time. You’ll see more of them too.
VOTE FOR THE EARTH
Convince your parents to vote for politicians who will protect our environment instead of destroying it. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Doesn’t EVERYONE want to live in a safe, clean world? When Election Day approaches, find out which candidates are endorsed by environmental groups such as The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and The Natural Resources Defense Organization (their web addresses are below). Convince your parents to vote for those candidates.
Tell them how important it is to protect our environment. Get your whole class to write letters. Your teacher can help you find the address of your local political leaders.
GROW UP AND BECOME A POLITICIAN
If you don’t like the way politicians make the laws that affect our planet, then become one of the people who make those laws. Good, caring people will be needed to be our future leaders.
GROW UP AND BECOME A SCIENTIST
People are also needed to come up with solutions to our environmental problems. We’re going to need heroes.
CHANGE YOUR OWN ATTITUDE
When we turn on the TV, we’re bombarded by commercials that give the impression our lives will be better if we run out and buy new toys, cars, shampoos, DVDs, pimple creams, and all kinds of other stuff.
What will truly make our lives better would be clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and people around the world who aren’t homeless, starving, and dying. In fact, scientists have found that after our basic needs (food, shelter, water, clothing) are met, buying things does not make us much happier.
SPREAD THE WORD
After you finish reading this, tell three of your friends about it. If YOU tell three friends and THEY tell three friends and THEY tell three friends, 27 kids will get the message. And if they tell three friends and they tell three friends and they tell three friends, 2,187 kids will get the message.
If that were to happen just six more times, over a million and a half kids will get the message. It’s crucially important that every kid get this information.
You can help spread it even faster if you get on the Internet and chat it up by email and instant message. Take these words and email them to your friends. Go ahead. You don’t need my permission.
Writing letters to your local newspaper will help too.
GET YOUR SCHOOL INVOLVED
Tell your teacher how important this is. Form a club of kids who care about the environment. Start a petition. Make your voice heard.
Change is hard. When the automobile was invented, people who manufactured buggies and horse collars didn’t want to change. When the computer was invented, the typewriter companies didn’t want to change. But they had to.
Human beings are going to HAVE to change, whether we want to or not. It’s just a question of whether we change NOW, when we still have time, or if we change LATER, when it may be too late.
Did you see the movie Titanic? The ship slammed into the iceberg because the lookouts didn’t see it until they were almost upon it. If they had seen the iceberg in the distance, the captain could have steered the ship around it. Earth is on a collision course with environmental disaster right now, and we are running out of time to steer around it. Each day that we delay will make it more difficult.
For years, scientists have been warning that we are like the passengers of the Titanic. But little was done. When Hurricane Katrina just about wiped out New Orleans in 2005, people started to pay attention. But even THAT has not motivated our political leaders to do what needs to be done–begin a crash program to switch to alternative sources of energy. What’s it going to take?
It’s going to take you and your generation.
All your life grownups have been telling you that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. Here’s your chance to prove it.
Here are some places you can go to get involved or get more information…
Fighting to save the planet since 1971: GREENPEACE
Founded in 1892: THE SIERRA CLUB
“Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet.”
Founded in 1967 as the Environmental Defense Fund, they look for innovative, practical ways to solve the most urgent environmental problems: ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE
An organization dedicated to empowering young people to lead environmental improvement movements: TREE MUSKETEER
Measure your impact on the Earth’s resources.
Learn about the greenhouse effect and how we change the climate: EPA GLOBAL WARMING KIDS SITE
This PBS site looks at global warming. Find out how much fossil fuel you use: WHAT’S UP WITH THE WEATHER
Kids taking action for greener, healthier schools: THE GREEN SQUAD
How to do an Earth Day on your block: EARTH DAY IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
A club for kids interested in learning more about the environment, and getting involved in environmental activities: ENVIRONMENTAL KIDS CLUB