From Environmental Footprints to Environmental Handprints

“I care about climate change because of our children. I want to safeguard their future.” ~ Cate Blanchett

dsc04701In recent weeks I have attended some really thought-provoking workshops and a conference about climate change. The focus has been on how we feel about it, how we teach children about it, and what we can do to move together toward climate action. Climate change is something I explored in an earlier blog post, and it has been so motivating to return to this important issue, hear dialogues and consider some creative solutions. I thought about things I might be doing to contribute to the problem (like taking long showers, not always buying local, leaving the lights on).  But I am also doing things that address the climate crisis (like walking to work, regularly eating meatless meals, buying second hand clothes, composting and recycling). We leave an eco-footprint through actions that contribute to problems like air, water, or soil pollution; ozone depletion; deforestation; consumerism. We create an eco-handprint when we contribute to climate action by doing something about food security, social and ecojustice, renewable resources, sustainable development and engaged citizenship. Clearly there are many things for us to think about, worry about and care about, but with needed knowledge and motivation, there are many things we can do.

“The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for.” – Ernest Hemingway   

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Elin Kelsey speak at a conference for educators, ondsc04702 climate change. Essentially, she said that much of what we see in the news and in academic journals about climate change has caused a sense of despair, and even apathy; we feel there is nothing we can do about it. There are increasing cases of eco-anxiety. As an alternative, the media should focus on precipitating conversations about climate change and encourage people to see hope as a mechanism for empowerment and agency. People need to know that there are solutions and that these can be put into action. Dr. Kelsey cited many examples which include the ban on single-use plastics, the creation of marine protected areas, the protection of migratory birds. We can choose to live a greener lifestyle; Canada’s Food Guide now prioritizes a plant-based diet! Cities can move toward being greener. Educators can bring environmental problems and some of their inspiring solutions into the curriculum in deeper ways that give students hope and inspire them to come up with more and even better solutions, and to take action.

“We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.” ~ Greta Thunberg

ecoartEco-art education is a powerful means of transforming our fears about the climate into a vision of hope. It is a creative form of climate action. At one of the workshops I attended, we traced our feet and shared our contribution to the environmental footprint. We also created our own eco-handprints using clay stamped with powerful words to voice our concerns about climate change. It was a chance to think about how art gives us alternative ways to interpret, react to and communicate about what is happening to the planet. We can appreciate the work of such artists as Edward Burtynsky, who has documented the impact of humans on the earth, or Antony Gormley’s nature-based art. Art experiences for children can include making their own art and craft supplies, creating art using natural materials, and using recyclable materials to make something new and to generate less garbage. As Laurie Carlson writes in her book ECOART, “As you look to nature for inspiration, you will be strengthening your commitment to do your part to save the earth. As you create treasures out of trash, you will open your eyes to all sorts of possibilities for using things that would otherwise end up in landfill. There really is an art to safeguarding our ecology – in more ways than one!” This is a powerful message to share with young children. It’s a way to get them thinking and talking, to help them care, and to put power in their hands to join in turning this serious problem around.

“We see a world of abundance, not limits. In the midst of a great deal of talk about reducing the human ecological footprint, we offer a different vision. What if humans designed products and systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?” ~ William McDonough

These handprints were made by TDSB educators and OISE TC's at a workshop on Environmental Sustainability and Education

These handprints were made by TDSB educators and OISE TC’s at a workshop on Environmental Sustainability and Education

This entry was posted in Activities to Enjoy, Arts Advocacy, Arts Books for Children, Creative Art, Curriculum in Early Childhood, Teacher Education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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