An Ecology Educator's Perspective on Earth Day
Written by Casey Boland (Educator, Spring 2019)
I absolutely love being an environmental educator! Every day I have the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of many individuals with unique backgrounds. I’ve worked with a variety of students—different ages, different stories. For me, the one thing that will never change is how grateful I am to have the privilege to experience the world in the way that I do. Each time I step off of the bus and walk with a group of students toward the beach, I feel like I’m experiencing it for the first time. It’s euphoric—the way the cold sand feels between my fingers as I sink my hands into the beach, how the salt stings my cheeks as the late winter winds blow across the water.
My coworkers and I spent Earth Day educating hundreds of fourth grade students on coastal ecology, along with the ecological and economical effects of the Camp Ellis jetty. Later that day, while perusing social media, I noticed many of my friends were sharing posts of beautiful places around the world they visited over the past year. This brought a huge smile to my face, I am so happy for all of the places my friends have experienced! But what about the rest of the world? Why is no one posting photos of trash-laden city streets? The majority of the world does not look like the serene, enchanting, “Instagram-able” photos being shared to commemorate Earth Day.
Not all people have access to green spaces, many people are more concerned about where their food or water is going to come from. Today, 844 million people (one in nine) lack access to safe water. Flint, Michigan has been without clean drinking water for over four years. Hazardous waste facilities are disproportionately located in poor, minority neighborhoods—the Environmental Justice Movement arose in the 1960’s when Civil Rights Activists realized the public health dangers for their communities and families. Environmental devastation disproportionally affects marginalized populations and the possibility for populations to mitigate these changes is not universal.
As environmental educators, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the world—we have the privilege to connect individuals to nature in a unique way. We can show humans that they do not need to travel to an exotic forest or hike through a rural canyon to celebrate Earth Day. We can use our unique position to build authentic, long-lasting relationships with individuals and help to foster that relationship between populations and their communities.
What we do matters—as individuals, as educators, as community members. It is a privilege to feel your legs burn as you hike up a steep mountain with a backpack full of camping supplies. It is a privilege to experience the world the way many of us do. Be smart. Be kind. Be respectful.