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Learning from the young to protect our planet

Learning from the young to protect our planet

My 12-year-old son is extraordinarily inquisitive. Since he was a little boy, he’s inquired about everything from politics and finances to sports and geography to space and the environment to all topics in between. He loves to learn and fully absorbs all the knowledge he acquires, to the point where he’s often concerned about the outcome or implications of what’s going on in this big, confusing world of ours. 

It’s tempting to shield our children from the bad and ugly, but in this age of social media and 24-7 news, it’s both impossible and unfair to do that. As a cerebral kid, my son doesn’t chitchat all that often, so when he engages in a conversation, I know it’s something he’s been pondering for a while. 

In fact, his curiosity about the Paris Climate Agreement spawned a conversation that led to the 2019 children’s book I published called The Jolt Felt Around the World. I am a big NPR fan, but I typically try and change the radio station during the morning car ride to school, primarily because I want to talk to my boys and not get sucked into a news brief. 

But one spring day in 2017, I’d left the radio tuned to NPR and a piece aired about the Paris Climate Agreement. My older son was 8 at the time and he asked numerous questions about the agreement, what it was and why the U.S. was potentially pulling out. He could not comprehend why America, a country he loved and believed in, wouldn’t want to help our environment. During that same conversation, my younger son asked, “So, if we keep putting trash on the earth, will she fall from the sky?” 

That day I went home and wrote the first draft of the book, a story where Mother Earth becomes so heavy with trash, she begins falling from the sky. All the Earthlings must flee to the other planets to save their lives and Mother Earth. But to their shock, the other planets do not want them. Over time, hearts soften and misunderstandings are sorted out. Ultimately, the solar system works together to save Mother Earth and her inhabitants. 

Over the past four years, my son’s questions have evolved from the Paris Agreement to electric cars, frustration over the invention of plastics and how eating a plant-based diet can decrease one’s carbon footprint. His discerning, progressive mind is dumfounded by the actions and decision of stakeholders and lawmakers when it comes to climate change. 

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People who still think global warming is a hoax or a myth should simply look around. Floods, wildfires, heat waves, ocean temperature and sea levels are at an all-time high. Meanwhile ice sheets and glaciers are melting and retreating. Someone doesn’t need scientific evidence to see that our earth is struggling on a massive scale. 

But if you’re one who appreciates scientific data, a report released this week by the United Nations indicates that the global average temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Celsius by century’s end even if all countries meet their promised emissions cuts, meaning more drastic changes need to happen.

Recently, I read that it takes 1,000 years for one plastic bag to degrade in a landfill and even then, the bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment. Speaking of plastic bags, I also learned that Americans use on average 365 plastic bags per person per year while people in Denmark use on average four plastic bags. 

The thought of shifting something as massive as the earth’s temperature can sound overwhelming, but doing nothing certainly isn’t going to help. Our younger generations are worried about our planet, much more so than older generations. They are the future stewards of our environment, and I have more faith in them than most of my contemporaries. But first we must ensure our planet lasts long enough for our young people to care for her. 

Nine actions that truly have an impact on climate change include: 

• Contacting legislators. 

• Consuming less meat and dairy products. 

• Flying on planes less. 

• Carpooling, walking, biking. 

• Reducing home energy use. 

• Respecting and protecting green spaces. 

• Reusing and recycling. 

• Decreasing consumption and waste. 

• Educating others and sharing what you’re doing. 

Be sure to educate the children, adolescents and young adults in your lives and allow them to teach you. Maybe I’ve taught my sons a thing or two about climate change and environmental protection, but they’ve taught me a lot as well. As children grow older and become critical thinkers, they begin to learn things on their own. Not only do they offer knowledge I don’t already have, their passion on the topic is inspiring and contagious. 

There are a multitude of hot topics right now but for me, climate change is one of the most important. Before we can calm global pandemics, heal war-torn nations or halt political unrest, we must first have a healthy earth to inhabit. 

(Susanna Shetley is an editor, writer and social media specialist at The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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4 comments

  • If you care to look around Mr. CAMERON J DEERING, the so called experts and scientists you are referring to these days are the biggest fake, phony, frauds and liars going. I would not trust any of those corrupt characters as far as I could throw the Empire State Building.

    posted by Hal Stroham

    Friday, 09/24/2021

  • Thank you for your intelligent and well worded article. Some people would rather sit in ignorance than open their minds to what is so blatantly obvious. Also, I am an NPR listener and supporter and I'm surprised that some people are willing to stay in the dark and just make judgements about things they know nothing about.. Contempt before investigation is a huge problem... I ask certain people... what are you so mad about? Why would you want to stop scientists from informing the public about things that will help us not hurt us. Are you a scientist? Have you dedicated your life to research and learning? I like smart people they help in this world.

    posted by Cameron J Deering

    Friday, 09/24/2021

  • Susanna Shetley listens to NPR. Enough said.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 09/24/2021

  • "People who still think global warming is a hoax or a myth should simply look around."

    I do look around. I also notice the fraud that has been perpetrated on the people of the world by the so called scientists that believe the unscientific hoax of global warming.

    You haven't kept up. The world is cooling. But, activists rarely look at the facts. They simply emote.

    posted by Quartermaster

    Thursday, 09/23/2021

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