We are influenced throughout our life by the company we keep, the groups and issues we engage in, and the people we respect and learn from. But is there anything that compares to what we learn from our parents as children?
We can see the way children imitate their parents, even as adults. Children learn habits (small and large ones), beliefs, likes and dislikes, interests, manners, and even deeply engrained ethics from their parents. It may seem superficial at times, but when you get to know someone closely, and their family, you can get to see how deep what they learned actually goes.
We put a lot into the future of our children. We want them to have a good education, good friends, want them to be polite and respectful. We hope they will learn what’s important in life and what’s not as important, and we do our best to help them learn this.
All of this being said, what do we do to educate them about the environment? We do some things on a superficial level — we might recycle and tell them how to recycle and what recycling is; we might be conservative in the use of lights and water and such resources. We give some passing mention of the importance of the environment. But is this a true environmental ethic and are we doing what we should in this field?
Native Americans lived with the natural environment for centuries and preserved it as it was, perhaps even improving it. Of course, there were many factors (i.e. industrialization) that made their living situation much different from ours today, but there was also an environmental ethic in many tribes that was much deeper than what we generally have today, and even people today who share similar ethics do much less, in many situations, to pass this ethic on to their children. We act as if it is a sophisticated, adult thing that is not really understandable by kids. But if children do not grow up with an environmental ethic that is deep in wisdom (which even kids can learn, perhaps easier than adults), it is much less likely that they will have an environmental ethic as an underlying part of their life as adults.
How are we to change our world significantly, if we do not change, significantly, what we are teaching our children?
Possible ethics to pass on to our children are:
1) We are a part of this world, and everything we do goes into the world and then makes its way back to us in a similar way. What we do comes back to us, and we do not get anything without paying the full, proper price for it. If we think something is very cheap and easy, we should spend some time deeply considering the full cost of the thing. We should then consider if we were responsible for every aspect of the making of that thing, if it would be worth it. (This may sound complicated here, but simply explaining it with product after product — and going through the process with them — is a simple thing that even a young child can understand.
2) The 7th generation ethic that has become more popular in recent years — in our every action we should consider it’s effect on people seven generations from now — not the next generation, or the following generation, but several generations down the line. Will creating trillions and trillions of plastic products that will last “forever” be something that benefits people seven generations from now?
3) The world is a living organism. We are a part of it. And everything is connected. We have to act kindly and care for the world if we want the world to care for us.
These are a handful of simple ideas to get started with. There are also environmental education ideas all over the internet.
For a start on environmental education, take a look at the North American Association for Environmental Education’s site.