People worldwide of all ages help preserve the environment. Small actions turn into grassroots movements so powerful they save forests covering entire nations. Authors concerned about sustainability shape children's attitudes toward preservation through compelling stories. Teachers lead change by encouraging students to help save resources. Gardeners who compost are preservationists who help minimize landfill waste and maximize soil fertility. At home and at work, we all preserve the environment when we make ecofriendly choices.
Biologist Wangari Maathai is a good example of the power of one person's actions to remediate environmental problems. Maathai helped reverse ecological damage from uncontrolled development in her home country of Kenya. Her effort to plant native trees in her own yard blossomed into the Greenbelt Movement, which increased employment for uneducated women, helped reforest Kenya, and shifted the focus of local agriculture from exports to production of nutritious foods for malnourished Kenyans. Maathai began her tree-planting campaign in the 1960s. The biologist's Greenbelt Movement led her in and out of jail and, in 2004, to a Nobel Peace Prize. Eventually the movement spread to other African nations. (See Reference 1)
Sometimes all it takes to plant the seed of positive change is to read good books to children, which both parents and educators can do. Two examples of authors’ efforts to increase environmental awareness tell the story of Wangari Maathai from childhood through the success of her African Greenbelt Movement. "Wangari’s Trees of Peace," by Jeanette Winter, is a good choice for preschoolers and primary students. Older students gain a more in depth understanding of environmental destruction and remediation from Claire A. Nivola’s "Planting the Trees of Kenya." (See References 2 and 3)
Students at Louisiana's Harry Hurst Middle School were concerned about the loss of community recycling services in the years following Hurricane Katrina. To divert school waste from landfills, a group of seventh graders formed a Green Team to educate the entire school about recycling, and began a "curbside collection" service to gather discards placed outside classroom doors and sort the materials into bins for a commercial recycler. The students persuaded the recycler to help the program by providing free pick-up for the first half of the school year. In summer 2011, the Green Team and its teacher sponsor, Julie Rexford, visited Washington, D.C., to receive a "Champions of Change" award from the White House. Many schools from the elementary level through college now collect recyclables, including cafeteria waste; all are champions of conservation. (See Reference 4)
Gardeners who compost kitchen and yard wastes at home or in community gardens turn organic materials destined for landfills into rich soil amendments. They help preserve the environment with every banana peel, piece of cardboard or pile of grass clippings added to a compost heap instead of a garbage can. However, you don't have to be a gardener to be a conscientious composter if your community or garbage hauler includes composting facilities in its recycling program. Some programs even provide participants with large collection bins in which to discard a wide range of unsorted materials, including cheese-gooey pizza boxes and chicken bones, items that require the high heat of commercial composting to break down. (See Reference 5) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2010, Americans recycled or composted 85 million tons -- just over 34 percent -- of the 250 million tons of trash produced. (See Reference 6)
- The New York Times: Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dies at 71
- American Scientist: One Tree at a Time
- PaperTigers.org: Planting the Trees of Kenya -- The Story of Wangari Maathai
- The White House: Green Team Starts Recycling Program on Campus
- Time to Recycle: City of Dallas Recycling
- EPA: Municipal Solid Waste
Alicia Rudnicki's website, Library Mix, blends book buzz and literacy news for all ages. Her articles have also appeared in many print publications including "The Denver Post" since the late 1970s. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master of Arts in education from the University of Colorado at Denver.
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