Sustainability activists have driven their message home in the minds of American schoolchildren. Kids get it now—the earth is doomed. The eco-apocalypse is nearly upon us.
According to a poll commissioned by Habitat Heroes (a.k.a. “the first social-networking site for young eco-warriors”), “One out of three children aged 6 to 11 fears that Ma Earth won't exist when they grow up.” And “more than half—56 percent—worry that the planet will be a blasted heath” by then.
This is good news in a way. Who knew that 56 percent of American kids would understand the term “blasted heath?” Has Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights suddenly brushed aside the Twilight books in pre-teen popularity? Or is this just colorful reporting by Treehugger.com?
Habitat Heroes is a kid-oriented website that “aims to create an ethos in our children to help them grow up environmentally aware and socially responsible.” Apparently the Heroes have already reached their goal. Children are environmentally aware—so aware that they are cringing in fear that the end of the world is nigh. As Treehugger.com puts it, “There's a new bogeyman lurking in the closet, and this one isn't imaginary. Us.”
But perhaps not all of us. It seems the real green goblins are the eco-educators. From the time they begin grade school, young children learn of imminent environmental calamity. They are constantly reminded that their generation is responsible for turning the Titanic around. For instance, at the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference at the University of Maryland this January, Al Gore spoke to both college and grade school students, declaring, “You are the answer” and “There are some things about this world that you know that older people don’t know.”
And even though 95% of those surveyed in the Habitat Heroes poll reported that their parents made an effort to save energy and water and recycle, children still fear that these efforts are not enough, and they harangue their parents to be greener. An article in the New York Times observes that this generation has become “a growing army of “eco-kids” — steeped in environmentalism at school, in houses of worship, through scouting and even via popular culture — who try to hold their parents accountable at home.” One mom tells how, when she brushes her teeth, her 4-year-old son likes to “come over and turn [the water] off and say, ‘Every day is Earth Day.’ He learned it at school.”
The British Guardian newspaper calls it “parent re-education.” But the re-education starts with the children. With so much emphasis on their generation’s eco-obligation, paranoia is predictable. “Leigh,” a reader commenting on the Treehugger.com article wrote:
Well, I’m not really surprised. My son has been totally brainwashed by the public school system in the United States regarding the horror of global warming. No wonder kids are worried about it – they hear all about it all the time at school. No offense to the principles of responsible stewardship of our earth, but some teachers are going overboard. I’d prefer that common sense and personal responsibility regarding the environment be taught rather than activism – you end up with kids who are happy to tell you all about how you’re contributing to global warming but who can’t remember to turn out their own lights!
But other readers, such as “Hutch,” were overjoyed at the poll’s fearful results and deemed the kids’ distress constructive:
This is great news! If today’s children have some fear about losing their earth then they will be the ones to save it when they grow up and pass these traits down to their children and so on and so on...
Sharon Lowe, founder of Habitat Heroes, was concerned after seeing the statistics and promised, “I am more committed than ever to help educate children around the globe in a way that is not scary to them.”
Sorry Sharon, the whole sustainability movement is built on scare tactics. The rhetoric of sustainability is the latest version of fire and brimstone oratory. We are sinners in the hand of an angry goddess. Fostering terror of technological advances, stigmatizing consumption as immoral prodigality, and making individuality seem baneful and noxious—these are the lessons for today’s Romper Room. Mr. Do-Bee is now Mr. Doom-Bee.
Habitat Heroes, however, does want take some of the angst off the Apocalypse. One idea: addict children to computer games. The registration page (you can’t play ‘til you sign up) exclaims “Greetings crusader!” and explains that “the more you play and participate, the more money will flow to benefit the very animals and causes you’re playing to protect!”
Don’t computers use a lot of electricity? Never mind.
The National Association of Scholars has written a lot over the last year about the sustainability movement in higher education. There is something about this movement that situates it in the world of education. It aims to revise our character as a people, our families, and personal motives, not just public policy. To that end, it reaches into the lives of children at the youngest possible age and “stays on message” clear through college.
This is not to say that education is the sole medium in which sustainatopians purvey their message. Al Gore is proof of that, but these days it is hard to turn around without bumping into the greenery. Advertisers tout their devotion to the new cult of soteriology. Grocery stores reward the bring-your-own-bag folks. Bottled water sales are falling. Those cuddly carnivores of the north, polar bears, have joined Goofy and Mickey to promote the fortunes of the Walt Disney Company, via its new film, Earth. We have Kyoto-ized and Rio Summit-ed for so long that the air is more polluted with enviro-slogans than with greenhouse gases.
Of course, Earth Day brings out sanctimoniousness like no other event on the calendar. It is an occasion for the media to recount the founding myths of the movement. WXPN, a Philadelphia public radio station has extended its Earth Day celebration to a three-month extravaganza on “Sustainability: The New Frontier.” In today’s segment we learn that the Iroquois of the 11th century were pioneers in sustainability for adopting a rule as part of their Gayanashagowa, or Great Law, in which they committed themselves to considering “the impact on the seventh generation” of all that they did. Of course, much of what they did was wage wars of conquest and sometimes extermination with their enemies. The seventh generation presumably enjoyed the lebensraum. Maybe the Great Law isn’t the best place to begin a genealogy of sustainability.
P.S. Also of interest on treehugger.com—the adult version of the environmentally obsessed—ecosexuals:
Nothing’s quite worse than meeting some really promising guy or girl and then realizing that he or she is an Escalade-driving, non-recycling, Earth messer-upper. What are you going to do? Try to reform them? Sleep with them anyway and try to ignore their unconscious ways? Forget it. Go for the green lover... A host of match-making sites can also be great venues for finding that special tree hugger to hug.