Connecting Kids With Nature Is Making A Big Difference
For almost 30 years, Captain Planet Foundation, the public charity outgrowth of the Saturday morning cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers, has been engaging and empowering young people to be problem solvers for the planet. Over time, it has directly funded more than 1.6 million children to perform environmental projects and habitat restorations through various programs across the U.S. and in 25 other countries. The author of this article, Leesa Carter-Jones, has been its president and CEO since 2012.
Now, more than ever, it is critical to teach young people resilience in the face of uncertainty and complex problems. And one of the most effective ways to do this is by connecting them to nature, engaging their natural empathy for animals, and showing them how to become changemakers through action.
Developing Environmental Problem Solvers
One of the most mentally stressful states for youth is believing they have no control over the present or their future. Engaging in problem-solving is an active demonstration that the opposite is true. At the Captain Planet Foundation, we start by teaching youth how to unpack the complex problems of biodiversity loss and human-caused pollution and degradation in the name of “progress” and commerce. Once they understand the role human choices are playing in these issues, they can begin to devise a solution and plan of action.
Captain Planet Foundation: Devising Solutions For Change
With that objective in mind, there are two CPF programs I would like to highlight because both can be done as virtual learning, with both onscreen and offscreen activities.
1. Ocean Heroes Network & Bootcamp
The first is Ocean Heroes Network and Bootcamp, a radical collaboration between 10 ocean conservation organizations, including UN Environment. Conceived and co-founded by CPF and Lonely Whale, this program has already trained more than 1,000 young (ages 8-18) ocean activists from more than 30 countries to stand up successful campaigns that remove single-use plastics from circulation. They do this by first understanding and then exerting influence on policy, supply-side and demand-side levers. These young people have already helped pass single-use policy bans in their cities, states and countries; removed single use plastics from distribution in their school districts, at local restaurants and coffee shops; and created virtual reality trainings with Disney and Marvel.
This award-winning program was nominated as a “World Changing Idea” by Fast Company in 2019, and the official social media account of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle named it one of the 10 environmental efforts they were following during the summer of 2019. Ocean Heroes Network recently expanded to include a Virtual Bootcamp, which is taking place June 26-July 1, 2020. Young readers can learn more and apply for Bootcamp at Ocean Heroes HQ.
2. Project Hero
The second program is Project Hero, a free online platform that guides young people on “Quests” to help local species and ecosystems in trouble. Best done in small groups of youths, Quests culminate by designing and implementing a project that makes a meaningful difference for the local species they’ve chosen to save.
There are currently four Quests available to explore: The Pollinator Quest and Soil Carbon Quest are available nationwide; the Minnesota Freshwater Quest is available to residents of the upper Mississippi and Minnesota River watersheds; and the Rocky Mountain Wolf Quest focuses on the importance of keystone predators for ecosystem health, particularly as it relates to the November 2020 Colorado ballot initiative to reintroduce gray wolves in the Southern Rockies.
We must invite young people to the table now, to help us reimagine a truly sustainable and resilient future wherein our personal and economic actions demonstrate how we value nature, biodiversity and the beauty of the creatures and landscapes with whom we share this world.
At Captain Planet Foundation, we often say that if we are not engaging the empathy of youth to create change, then we are teaching them that apathy is an acceptable response to complex issues. It is not an acceptable response.
Lead photo caption: Captain Planet with Real Planeteers (Project Hero program) Photo by CPF.