Thanks to social media influencers like Greta Thunberg, today’s teenagers are regularly tuned in to issues about climate change and the environment. Across the internet, they have been dubbed the “Climate Change Generation” for a reason.
Parents can take advantage of that and plan family activities and teen trips around official events that focus on nature and the environment. Below is a look at some of these upcoming events and programs that may help, along with some Rustic Pathways’ alumni thoughts about these issues:
Earth Day, April 22
This year’s theme of Restore Our Earth focuses on climate change. Activities for this annual awareness event actually will begin April 20 with a Global Youth Climate Summit led by Thunberg and other young activists. On the 21st, there will be an environmental summit for teachers. Then on April 22 and 23 the Biden Administration will stream a climate summit with 40 world leaders beginning at 12pm EST.
Families can participate in these summits or use online resources to search for a local event. These projects can set the foundation for teen involvement in future hands-on programs, such as the virtual Global Youth Climate Summit being held for 7th-12th graders by Stanford University and the Rustic Pathways Foundation in July.
Stanford’s Dr. Alice Siu, who will lead the program, says the online summit will help students understand the diversity of perspectives on the environment and how policies affect certain communities.
“We will definitely be thinking deeply about why people should care about the environment – what are the reasons behind it and how can we communicate with others to share our ideas,” Siu said. “Students will come through the course with a better understanding of the complexity of issues related to the environment.”
Stop Food Waste Day, April 28
It’s estimated that a third of all food produced is wasted every year – enough to feed the approximately 800 million undernourished people in the world and more. When food is wasted, all the measures taken to produce the food are wasted too – water from irrigation, animal feed, fertilizer, labor, transportation, etc.
Families can easily take steps to reduce their own food waste by making lists for shopping, planning meals, storing food well, etc. Beyond that, travel is certainly one of the best ways to increase a teen’s global awareness about food. Many Rustic alumni mention their joy at trying plants like kava for the first time or marveling at how differently the necessities of life are handled in other cultures.
“I became increasingly familiar with their way of life,” Rustic alumni Zach Gross said after traveling to a village in Peru. “I did not hear a single complaint or see a morsel of food go to waste.”
That kind of experience has encouraged other Rustic alumni to focus on reducing food waste.
“The cornfields in Vietnam still inspire me to garden at home, and one of my dreams is to provide more people with local and sustainable foods.” André Mershad said.
Heather Lyon, who traveled to India and Peru as a teenager, echoed this idea. Food insecurity became one of her passions after traveling.
“Spending time in the developing world sparked my interest in agriculture and food production,” Lyon said. “The first time I saw food being produced locally to support the community was in India. This interest (took) me to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer…. Tracing it back, it all stems from my experience with Rustic in India, where the seed was planted and my view broadened.”
Arbor Day, April 30
If you want to plant a tree, this is a great day to do it. The Arbor Day Foundation is trying to recruit five million people to plant trees around the world to restore forests.
Planting mangroves was one of the more memorable moments Rustic alumna Reese Peters had while in the Dominican Republic.
“Our job was to head deep into these mangrove forests and plant as many baby mangroves as we could,” Peters said. “Their community thrived off of this land and it hurt the people to see it slowly diminishing… We walked around and planted as many mangroves as we could… Our guide was as grateful as could be knowing people our age still cared about these wonders of the world.”
National Clean Air Month, May
This month is promoted by the American Lung Association. Air pollution is of course not only a health factor but also an issue that can be explored at this summer’s Global Youth Climate Change Summit mentioned above.
One important concept to discuss with the family may be environmental justice since lower income families are more likely to live in areas near major sources of pollution. Comparing the air near a factory or major highways to cleaner air regions can help exemplify the difference.
An easy way to enjoy cleaner air is to view the brilliance of the night sky when it’s in full view, which is a common experience on Rustic trips.
“That night under the stars – not a single cell phone, computer, or device in sight – I remember looking up at the stars and being amazed I could see every single star in the sky, a perk of being several hours from any major city,” Rustic alumna Emily Mae said.
A world away Rustic alum Pablo Ruiz Segura had a similar experience in Australia.
“If I had to put one moment on top, it would definitely be spending hours watching the sky in the Australian desert with other people just talking, laughing and playing,” Ruiz Segura said.
Lei Day in Hawaii and May Day, May 1
No trip to Hawaii is complete without receiving an aloha greeting with a lei. This tradition and other parts of Hawaiian culture are celebrated statewide on Lei Day. Each island has a different type of lei to wear during the festivities. Leis are often given as gifts on this day, and performances and parades are a big part of the celebration.
The event coincides with May Day, which is a spring holiday in many European countries. If you want your teens to get in the spirit of Hawaiian culture after this day, you can seek one of the few remaining spots on Rustic’s popular Hawaii Service trip, which includes hiking, zip-lining and other adventures in this beautiful state.
World Fair Trade Day, May 9
This day centers on how environmental and economic issues work hand in hand. The awareness event is meant to highlight the efforts of smaller farmers, artisans and other workers who help us create an environmentally-friendly and sustainable economy.
Families can support small local businesses and encourage companies to utilize Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) policies that promote good practices.
On the traveling front, trips that focus on responsible ecosystems include the Marine Life and Coastal Restoration program in the Dominican Republic.
Go Paddling Week, May 23-30
This week is just plain fun – a focus on an activity that is environmentally friendly and allows travelers to explore.
Many trips provide the opportunity to go kayaking, boating or white water rafting. Mershad said during his journey he found that using a boat as transportation took him places he may not have been able to go to otherwise. In Fiji he lived on a boat for a week and then in Laos he struck up a great friendship with a villager after one paddling journey.
“We took two boat rides and a long hike in deep mud to reach his village, where his people greeted us with open arms and a delicious meal,” Mershad said.
World Turtle Day, May 23
It’s hard not to love turtles, but if you’re unsure for some reason, you can head over to this Reader’s Digest article to get your fill of cute turtle photos.
Of course seeing them in person is better. One of Rustic’s most popular trips is its Turtle Conservation Project in Costa Rica. There is one more week open with spots, if you’d like to book a spot for your teen.
Rustic alumna Kelly Kane who went to Costa Rica for this trip said it helped her choose her career path.
“I want to protect the environment,” Kane said. “Because of the lessons and experiences I’ve had abroad, I will be entering college next year as a biomedical engineering major with a minor in environmental studies.
National Garden Week, June 6-12
This week is a perfect time to visit your local public or botanical garden or work on your own garden. Learning about vegetation and the land is key to any environmental trip.
Victoria Tadewald, who has traveled with Rustic to three different countries, said it was a core part of her education.
“Rustic taught me the importance of environmental stewardship. On every trip I went on, the leaders instilled a deep sense of environmental consciousness, always encouraging us as travelers to respect the land and its resources,” Tadewald said.
Smart Irrigation Month, July
This recognition is promoted by the little-known Irrigation Association. But it focuses on an necessity that is central to so many environmental issues – the need for water.
Helping villages with water is a common – and important – service mission on many Rustic Pathways trips. It is one of the highlights of many journeys.
Rustic alumna Reese Peters says one of her most meaningful experiences was helping build an aquifer for a village in the Dominican Republic.
“It was a huge eye-opener for me,” Peters said. “Watching these kids run around with not a care in the world showed me how grateful I should be for something as simple as a glass of clean water.”
This awareness event and other ones like it are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to moments where environmental responsibility can be shared and celebrated. Whatever days are marked, there is no doubt it is healthy to get teens outside enjoying nature.
“Rustic taught me a great lesson to unplug from technology and plug into my environment,” Alumna Carolyn Kendall said. “By doing that, I really connected with my surroundings and appreciated them much more than I would have if I was worried about texting my friend.”
For more on Rustic Pathways’ current trips, please visit our program page.