Prove your humanity

Turns out if you want environmental change, you should probably start with kids. Research shows that teaching children about the environment can influence their parents to live a more sustainable life. In other words, kids have power. That was the message of a workshop for educators in Western Pennsylvania recently put on by Young Voices for the Planet, a series of videos of young people working on climate change actions, founded by Lynne Cherry.

Cherry is the author of children’s books, including The Great Kapok Tree, which has sold more than a million copies. She spoke with Andy Kubis about Young Voices for the Planet and why she’s offering educator workshops in western Pennsylvania.

LISTEN: Educators Learn to Motivate Kids to Act on Climate Change


What is Young Voices for the Planet and why did you start it?

Author Lynne Cherry at a recent workshop in the Pittsburgh area. Photo: Maren Cooke

As a children’s book author and illustrator, going around the country I would see these kids get very upset when I would tell them about the rainforest being destroyed or rivers being polluted. And I realized that this was not motivating them. These stories were really, I thought, even maybe damaging them. I became concerned.

However, if I told them stories of kids saving a wetland next to their school or kids getting a ban on plastic bags or saving a forest, they would get so excited, and they would want to do something themselves. It would motivate them. So I realized early on that you had to tell success stories to motivate kids rather than telling them the doom and gloom.

So Young Voices for the Planet was created to champion the stories of young people who were concerned about climate change and were creating solutions. And so we documented, so far, 13 stories of kids or groups of kids who are reducing CO2 emissions — somehow — doing what the adults should be doing.

The youth in these films model this behavior of making a difference in the world. There are kids from every background imaginable so any kid watching these films will see themselves in these films.

One film in particular called Save Tomorrow — the girls in the film were nine years old. They saw the rest of the Young Voices for the Planet Films. They said “wow, those kids look just like us. Maybe we could do something.” There was a law that prohibited solar panels on town buildings. They went and testified at a town meeting. They got a standing ovation. The law was overturned. And then the town put solar panels on every public building.

Young Voices for the Planet is putting on educator workshops. Why did you decide to develop this curriculum for teachers?

We are talking directly to young people, but the reason for these these workshops is that teachers have been asking “how can we empower our students.”

The kids are seeing people like Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl who sat outside of Parliament. They’re seeing the Parkland kids. They’re seeing all these other kids speaking out, and they’re thinking, what could I do? How could we make a difference? And the teachers are saying we don’t have the tools for this. So I started doing these films is give role models and a curriculum.

About 30 educators participated in a recent teacher workshop at La Roche College in western Pennsylvania. Photo: Maren Cooke

What happens at the educator workshops?

We’re going to be essentially deconstructing the some of the Young Voices for the Planet films with the Action Plan. The Action Plan as part of the civic engagement and democracy curriculum and it’s an acronym: A is you assess and analyze the existing films. C is you figure out who do they collaborate with the kids. T is their timetable. I is identify who would help them with the project. O is organizing and N is the news.

So [educators] deconstruct these films and then they figure out what do they want to do. What can they do. How can they make a difference using the action plan as a template.

Why did you decide to put on workshops in Pittsburgh?

The reason that we are having these in Pennsylvania and especially in the Pittsburgh area is because Pittsburgh has been like this beacon of sustainability. The city itself has really made a great effort to become a sustainable city and yet you have very bad air pollution and you have fracking affecting a lot of families.

I think a lot of young people don’t even realize that they have a voice. And so they can speak out. They can go to hearings. And so the reason this is a civic engagement and democracy workshop is because democracy was envisioned as a way for everyone to have a voice and to speak out and to determine what we as a whole do.

I think what these kids in the [Young Voices for the Planet] movies show is that you don’t even have to be able to vote and you can change laws. It’s getting people into the habit of instead of watching television in the evening to go to their town meeting, to go to their county commission, to go to their their land commission, and speak out about what they want their elected officials to do. That’s how democracy works. And that’s really the crux of these workshops is to engage people again and to enliven a functional democracy by having the young people make it a habit of participation.


The next educator workshop in the Pittsburgh area is February 23rd in at the Fern Hollow Nature Center.

Young Voices for the Planet workshops are sponsored by The Heinz Endowments, which also supports The Allegheny Front.

Climate Change is Scary. Here’s How to Talk to Kids About It.