Earth anthem: Teach our children well

Chico resident Tracy McDonald calls herself “an injured eco-warrior who has had to put down the sword for the pen.” Put another way, she’s a Chico State professor on leave from the university’s Department of Management.

As our city and county revise general plans, one issue stands out as especially important in becoming more sustainable: education of our young. Learning to behave in an environmentally responsible manner must be inculcated at a very early age.

Such learning is similar to raising a child in a bilingual household. If a child observes model green behavior from birth, being eco-friendly is a natural way of life rather than a set of lessons to be learned. Growing up, paper or plastic are not even considered options as the child goes shopping equipped with his or her own bag.

The question then becomes: What can local government do to help parents in accomplishing the first step of this task?

My experience working in the area of sustainability suggests that people want to be friendly to the planet, but they lack the tools. The path to behavior change seems daunting and they do not know where to start. I have found that coaching individuals to change just one behavior raises their awareness immensely and they naturally expand their behavior change to other areas of their life. Many even begin to pass on their new behaviors to friends, family, co-workers, etc.

Could an organization such as the Chico Area Recreation District offer classes to help our community? Perhaps parents and children could take a class together. Alternatively, classes could be offered to individuals who want to change the way they live. Maybe even a class on how to teach sustainability could be offered.

Could there be curriculum change in K-12 initiatives? I know some teachers are doing an excellent job integrating sustainability in the classroom.

As an organizational psychologist, I know that the most difficult changes are those involving cultural beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. I also know that, in the case of sustainable living, change must be from the bottom up to truly permeate culture. In this case, we must start with our young. As eco-friendly living becomes the norm, such behaviors become sustainable generation after generation. The investment in our future starts now.

I am proud to live in a city so committed to sustainability. I cannot think of a more pressing issue. Our planet doesn’t need us to survive. However, our survival depends on a healthy planet. If we do not take immediate steps to alter our behaviors, we may not have a planet that will support human life.

We inherited the abundance we now share from previous generations. What will we pass on to our children?