1. Disconnection to the Systems that Sustain Us: Challenges and solutions

Katie Hargus, Climate Action Youth Ambassador. June 19, 2019. Victoria BC.

Connecting plants and seasons… Strawberries and summer.

Connecting plants and seasons… Strawberries and summer.

This little one greets most trees with “hello”, a gentle pat, and “goodbye”.

This little one greets most trees with “hello”, a gentle pat, and “goodbye”.

Feathers aren’t just soft, fluffy toys; they come from birds!

Feathers aren’t just soft, fluffy toys; they come from birds!

Our era is one of immense, unpredictable, and long-term change. With the combined forces of climate change, unsustainable land use practices, rapidly growing populations, and lack of sufficient support from the infrastructure and governments of industrialized nations, we require drastic shifts in the ways we interact and relate with our land, communities, and the earth as a whole. Despite the globally-recognized need to mediate the impacts of these interacting forces, change has not come swiftly or effectively enough. This is particularly relevant when one considers that the impacts of climate change are not caused or distributed evenly, and that communities strapped with the burdens of colonialism and capitalism, and who face immense restrictions on access to land and resources (particularly Indigenous communities) are forced into the most vulnerable positions in regards to climate impacts.

Underpinning and enabling the aforementioned forces are the wider social, economic, and ecological frameworks of disconnection– from our food systems, from the means of our energy extraction, from the exploitation and slavery that produces our clothing and products, from our communities, and from the land. These frameworks are what have enabled industrialized nations to mass-extract, mass-produce and mass-emit - all of which are the primary causes for our current and growing climate crisis. It is therefore disconnection that requires drastically more attention than it has been granted. 

This disconnection permeates most aspects of industrialized societies, politics, economics, and ecologies, and broadly immobilizes individuals, groups, and societies alike from understanding, addressing, acting and engaging meaningfully with the causes, threats, and realities of climate change. It is crucial here to note that just as the causes and distribution of the impacts of climate change are distributed unevenly, so too are the restrictions on access to both education and meaningful engagement with local landscapes. 

Ensuring this access to education and engagement with the land is particularly vital for children (including those from marginalized communities) for whom the vast majority of information and education about climate change comes from either apocalyptic narratives broadcast in media, or from isolated and irrelevant school curricula. Saturation in negative forms of information can alter the brain development of children, setting them on trajectories of depression, fear, isolation, and detachment. Furthermore, with the ever-growing dynamics of urbanization, habitat destruction, and isolation from local systems, children across industrialized nations are restricted from accessing and interacting with their local landscapes, ecosystems, green spaces, biodiversities, and communities. For the most part, this also is reflective of the lack of (access to) education that prioritizes teaching and learning through these local systems.

Children are further distanced from their local landscapes and communities in more ways than one, but a hugely impactful factor is the time most children (of all ages) spend on screens, rather than outside. According to a report published by Nature Canada, the increase in ‘screen time’ vs ‘green time’ is accompanied by a wide array of impacts on physical, mental, and social health - including unhappiness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and reductions in memory, creativity, problem-solving, motor skills, etc. (Nature Canada, 2017, p.2) A recent study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science stated that adolescents who spent more time on social media and smartphones were more likely to report mental health issues than those who spent more time on non-screen interactions, such as face-to-face interactions, exercise, other outdoor time, and reading (Nature Canada, 2017, p.2)

To turn the tides and plant seeds of hope for our collective future, children will require educational programs that prioritize meaningful engagement with local systems. These concepts can be best integrated through place-based approaches to education, where education is inherently rooted in specific, local cultural and ecological contexts - emphasizing student responsibility of, and connection with, place. These approaches must necessarily enable to locality (impacts and responses) through collaboration and involvement with local communities and with local ecosystems. These approaches are widely regarded to be more conducive to student learning and engagement, and must occur through active and immersive methods of teaching and interacting with the land and with local communities that take into account that learning must be “holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational - focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place” (First Nations Education Steering Committee, nd p.2).

As a Climate Action Youth Ambassador and Youth Engagement Coordinator with the IISAAK OLAM Foundation, I am co-developing a nature-based program for tiny tots ages 2-4 that is all about connection; it involves gardening and foraging (connecting to our food systems), bird watching (empathizing and being curious about other species and their habitats/food sources), observation of nature including streams (understanding where our water comes from), weather patterns (instilling an attitude of gratitude for rain, for example), etc. Starting small in a home-school environment with a pilot group of toddlers, the IISAAK OLAM Foundation aims to decolonize, reimagine, and redesign an education system that fosters the values of IISAAK (respect: to observe, appreciate and act accordingly) and TIKKUN OLAM (activities that bring the world closer to the harmonious state for which it was created). By doing so, we can plant seeds of hope for our environment and for future generations.

Stay tuned for my upcoming blogs as I take you into the action with my Toddler Climate Action Ambassadors!

Monica Shore