young voices

Pittsburgh kids stand up for the environment through Young Voices for the Planet

Lois Bower-Bjornson and her three kids are standing up to bear witness to a subject near and dear to their hearts.

Odessa, 9, is worried about protecting the world from pollution. Gunnar, 12, has a passion for all living creatures and a determination to protect them from the world in which they live. Kylan, 14, is concerned with protecting green spaces for the future.

By becoming actively involved, they are “learning how democracy works, perseverance, the difference between fact and fiction, how long things take to get done and how air and water pollution affects them and their community,” Lois says. “They know about climate change and how fossil fuels and humans directly contribute due to the pollution we create.”

The Scenery Hill family recently discussed natural gas drilling by fracking in their community and how it has impacted their lives. The discussion took place at LaRoche College as part of a series of regional teacher workshops, hosted by Young Voices for the Planet. The workshops are designed to show educators how to empower their students to make a difference in the face of environmental concerns.

Lynne Cherry, the founder of Young Voices for the Planet, leads the sessions. She is passionate about the power of kids like the Bjornson siblings to help save the world.

Lynne Cherry

“I started asking kids to testify about their success stories, which is completely different from adults that only talk about the problems,” Cherry says. “Their voices are much more powerful.”

A New York Times best-selling author, Cherry has written 30 children’s books. She produced a series of 13 short films that focus on young people around the country and how their environmental actions are making a difference in their communities and their schools.

The films include a story about three 9-year-old girls who testified at their town hall to change a law to allow solar panels on public buildings. Another film covers a 10-year-old girl that told how the power plant in her community was causing asthma. A group of high school students who testified at a city council meeting to ban plastic bags in their city is the subject of yet another.

The films are part of the teacher workshops, but you can watch the films with your kids on the Young Voices for the Planet website.

For kids as driven as Odessa, Gunnar and Kylan, the website includes ways to take action for themselves and mobilize their friends and classmates. They can discover their power as a group through specific acts. For example, if 1 million kids turned off their computers for 2 hours a day, it would eliminate 80,000 tons of CO2 per year. Ideas include starting campaigns at school to compost food waste or plant a Monarch butterfly garden.

As teachers share their training with students, we’re likely to see more kids working together to create solutions and leading change.

For her part, Cherry plans to continue to work with kids to encourage them to protect their environment.

“I can’t stop,” she says. “This is a climate emergency. A lot of kids today feel this world is spinning out of control. It’s not the greatest time to be growing up. The children need to rise up to protect their future. Our workshops help teachers to help young people have a voice.”

Upcoming teacher workshops run through June and include earning ACT48 credits. Click here for details.