By 2050, the United Nations estimates that the total population will total around 9 billion people globally (United Nations: 2004). Meeting the challenge of addressing the needs of so many people is an opportunity for growth that can be gained through scientific developments and personal responsibility, areas in which 4-H eagerly works to educate youth and adults.
We learn that our everyday behaviors, even if they seem very small, can actually put a lot of strain on our environment when so many people do the same things.
We often ask our youth, “If everyone were to do the same things you do every day, what would that look like? What kind of impact do you think it would have?”.
We know that much of our daily energy use, like the amount of water we use, how much trash we produce, the kind of food we buy and where we buy it, and how much energy we use in our transportation, for example, can make a big difference if we all make decisions that keep our environment in mind.
We can help prevent environmental damage that leads to climate change and human illness by conserving energy and making a smaller ecological footprint. An ecological footprint is the amount of resources from the environment that are required to meet the demands of our everyday consumption of goods. 4-H encourages youth to make thoughtful decisions about their behaviors such as:
- Eating locally grown and in season produce
- Using reusable bags for shopping
- Buying products with less packaging and that are less processed
- Turning lights off when they aren’t in use
- Doing outdoor rather than indoor activities
- Walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transportation
- Conserving water when brushing teeth and by displacing water in toilet tanks
- Only running washing machines with full loads
However, motivating people to change their behaviors can be difficult. In 4-H we work to encourage young people to understand at an early age the enormous impact they have on the health and well-being of others. The World Health Organization tells us that “…environmental factors are a root cause of a significant burden of death, disease and disability – particularly in developing (poor) countries. The resulting impacts are estimated to cause about 25% of death and disease globally, reaching nearly 35% in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.” (World Health Organization: 2016). A good portion of environmental damage that affects us in negative ways is caused by our using more resources than our planet has the ability to renew at the same rate we use them and by extracting our resources in harmful ways. This may seem overwhelming, but there are actually very simple things that each of us can do that can significantly help lessen the impact. Actually, when we change our behavior is western countries like the United States, we can make more significant differences since we are one of the primary consumers of energy in the world.
And as always, youth learn not only by DOING but by helping to teach others! We encourage our youth to educate their friends and family as well as to mentor younger 4-H’ers in project areas like environmental science. If your youth or club is interested in learning more about energy conservation and environmental science projects, there are an array of wonderful resources, listed below, to help get you started. Your county 4-H agent is happy to help any youth or volunteer interested in this or any one of the project areas that help provide youth with research based education.
Resources for teachers: http://www.eia.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=6
United Nations. 2004. “World Population to 2300”. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Population Division. United Nations: New York, NY.
World Health Organization: The Health and Environment Linkages Initiative (HELI). 2016. “Environment and Health in Developing Countries”. URL http://www.who.int/heli/risks/ehindevcoun/en/index1.html. Accessed February 5, 2016.
Photo: Wake County, North Carolina 4-H. http://www.wakegov.com/humanservices/family/4h/traditional/Pages/default.aspx