Last weekend, the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America had their annual University Day event at West Virginia State University in Institute.
My girlfriend, Caroline; our friend, Dr. Liedl; and I teamed up to teach the Sustainability Merit Badge to 15 young men.
I was a Boy Scout once, but when I saw the start time was 8 a.m. on a Saturday I remembered why I never got my Eagle Scout. When I realized the group of 10- to 17-year-olds had to get out of bed on Saturday too, skip the cartoons (if that’s even still a thing) and sit in a classroom ... the prospect became even more daunting.
First things first: Props to all the teachers out there. I do not know how you do it. Whatever they pay you guys, you deserve double.
But I’m not writing to harp on the kids. The opposite in fact: I was amazed at how receptive they were.
Merit badges are intensive. To get one for sustainability, the boys had to monitor their families’ waste streams. They had to sit down with their parents and go over their water and energy bills. They even had to watch their families’ eating habits and think of ways to eliminate food waste.
They had to draw out their idea of what sustainable cities would look like, and even come up with an action plan to make their households more sustainable.
They even had to make a needs-versus-wants list of their belongings, and address the issues of consumerism and clutter.
Oh, and something I think everyone should do: They had to find out where their drinking water comes from.
And I don’t mean “out of the tap.” For the first time probably in their lives, these boys had to think about where their water comes from — and whether that source is safe and clean. Speaking from personal experience, that’s something most adults don’t even do. At least, not until it’s too late and they find out they have been poisoned.
Those were just the prerequisites. The boys had to define sustainability. They learned about the water cycle, flooding and droughts. We told them where and how their food was grown. For some of them, it was obviously the first time they had ever thought about where their food comes from beyond the grocery store.
But there were other things the kids had a better grasp of than most adults. It became very apparent to me that I was talking to children who were born into climate change — something I didn’t learn about until I was in high school.
Their grasp and understanding of the topic of carbon pollution and the need for alternative energy seemingly exceeds that of most of our politicians.
One (I’m guessing) 13-year-old kid perfectly explained why CO2 was bad in about 10 words or less, complete with a bored eye roll as if to say, “Yeah, we all know that.” The same kid later said, “The groundwater under this campus is toxic!? That’s serious messed up! Is there any way to clean it?”
The kids understand a system using finite resources in a way that creates unrecycled waste cannot last. They know about the garbage patches in the ocean, and they know species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate.
It may be just because Boy Scouts go camping, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a genuine interest and understanding of how nature works and how natural systems make a habitable environment.
We talked about life systems: soil, fresh water, atmosphere, ecosystems, plants, animals and even the ocean.
We had a conversation about soil with teenagers on a Saturday — by then it was the afternoon. It may be tooting our own horns a bit, but between Caroline’s presentation on earth worm composting and my repetitive harping on closed loop systems, I think we genuinely got through to kids on the importance of cycling nutrients and building soil.
I know in my heart that, at some point, at least one of those kids in that audience will put out their own garden, grow their own food, compost it and grow their food again. If that’s the case, it was worth getting out of bed on a Saturday. It might even be the most important thing I’ve done all year.
So, how about that? I try not to be vain, but I do feel pretty proud! Good job Caroline and Dr. Liedl — pats on the back all around.
For everyone else, I implore you: If you want to do some good, teach a child something. It could be anything, but I say take them outside. This is the garden column after all; show your grandkids your garden. Show your nieces and nephews how to make food, or just the smell of spring flowers.
Go for a walk in the woods or down by the creek with your sons and daughters. Introduce them to Mother Nature.
The best way to perpetuate our planet is to teach the children to appreciate it.