Childhood should be filled with carefree days devoid of stress and worries; no cares or demands. Don’t get me wrong, there are all sorts of issues in childhood – what game to play, did I get my homework done, how late can I stay outside, and the two biggest questions: what will my friends think and when can I start driving? In the grand scheme of childhood, these are massively important issues. In retrospect, I am not sure how I survived childhood. I mean, we had scrapes and cuts and bumps and bruises and we didn’t worry about any of it too awfully much. Today’s children truly do not have that luxury; the childhood times that are meant for learning and growing are being overshadowed by the concern and fear that the children feel about the potential future that they will face.
As teachers, we have the obligation to not only teach our students about what is happening with the climate, but also to reassure them that there is an element of hope – a spark of light, and that they can be the “movers and shakers” that inspire the changes to happen. That is a very hard position to maintain without becoming discouraged sometimes, and so it was with just an iota of hope that I headed out to the meeting at the U.S. Embassy with Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He was a gracious man and we were openly welcomed into the inner sanctum of the Embassy walls. He spoke with us for a time about the changes that have occurred since the Kyoto Protocol and how the responsibility is now on the individual countries to make their best efforts to reduce emissions. Still, I was skeptical; why would this man, well renowned in the inner circles of the government, whose name is held in high regard, really care what we had to say? After all, we are 10 teachers who are passionate about what we are doing, but are there not lots of others in the same situation who must bombard the office with comments, complaints and requests?
I listened carefully, and the more he spoke and glanced my way, I could see and feel the passion that was within. He believes in the process; he believes in the children and he believes that what the children have to say is important. We all had our turn sharing, and we were all brought to tears as one of the Education Ambassadors spoke so fervently, so eloquently, about what he wanted – no, what he needed – for his students. As I ready myself for my webcast with my students in about 3 hours, and I am thinking back over the meeting, I want to share with you the portion of my presentation.
I spoke with Dr. Holdren about my school and my “kids,” and then I shared with him the letter that they wrote. I want to share that with you now, as the immediacy of their feelings is much better expressed from them.
“We are concerned that the future world will not be as good for us as it was for our parents and grandparents. We will not be able to see beautiful things or clean oceans. We are also afraid for our future, and what health, food and water problems might happen because the climate is changing so fast. We are afraid that there won’t be enough food or water, or that there will be wars over food and water. We don’t want to get skin cancers and have all kinds of breathing problems. We don’t want to die young.”
Dr. Holdren turned to me and asked if he could have a copy of the note because he wanted to give it President Obama personally. As I gave it to him, I thought, “Is this the small bit of hope that children need? Is he really going to do what he said?” I asked him if he would like me to just put it in the book with all the other student letters and he said no. He wanted to carry this one with him in his file so he would have it – a group of schoolchildren’s letter to the President, and it would be read. Be hopeful, children of all ages.