President and Co-Founder of EarthEcho International and Azure Worldwide, Philippe Cousteau is one of the nation’s top conservationist leaders empowering youth to shift the planet.
Ocean Pleasant: Explain EarthEcho and how you engage youth through your program.
Philippe Cousteau: EarthEcho International is one of the leading youth environmental education and service learning organizations in the United States. We are about eight years old and our focus is on helping and empowering young people to take action in their communities, by linking what they’re learning in the classroom with service learning projects in their communities.
Our mantra is that awareness doesn’t lead to action—action leads to awareness. We provide resources to millions of middle and high school students across the country, essentially lesson plans, that break down the critical thinking and problem-solving steps that a young person should go through to identify an environmental problem in their community, to create a plan, solve that problem, take action, and report and demonstrate what they’ve done.
Sample programs include everything from doing energy audits in your home and figuring out how to reduce energy needs, to organizing a campaign to raise money to dig wells in Africa, to doing gardens at home or in their schools, to protecting and improving the quality of water.
OP: Why should youth care about the environment and the legacy they leave behind?
PC: Well, the great news is that overwhelmingly far more than adults, youth already care about the environment. Young people are recognizing that we have largely made a mess of things with respect to the environment [and] that the burden to fix it will fall on them. I believe that young people are, to a large degree, already fired up. Want to take action. The data and the surveys support that. It’s not a matter of whether they want to do something; it’s a matter of needing a little bit of help and guidance, and some of the tools to actually figure out what it is they want to do. That’s where we come in.
OP: And they can find those tools on your website and through programs you’ve created?
PC: All of our resources [can be found at] www.earthecho.org. We also support and provide curriculum enhancements, so we help teachers do their job and link what they’re teaching in the classroom to environmental issues.
OP: Can you explain a couple of the tools that youth can access [by] going to your website or getting involved in your programs?
PC: We have standards-aligned video clips that we work with Discovery Education to provide for free on our website. We have downloadable action guides, lesson plans, essentially. Step-by-step guides that help you think about what you could do around water, what you could do around energy, what you could do around food. Every month we’re going to feature outstanding projects young people have done from around the country.
We have a new program that’s about student journalism called STREAM (Students Reporting Environmental Action Through Media). How do you become a citizen journalist? How do you go out in your community with questions that you want to ask? The program provides resources to help talk youth through that. We provide resources around templates—how do you do a press release about your project? How do you write letters to raise money? Simple things like that help provide basic, simple tools for young people. They don’t have to figure it out all on their own. We’re there to help them do it.
OP: I’m a delegate for the Global Youth Peace Summit here in Austin, and I was a little afraid to get involved at first because I didn’t know where to go. You’re providing tools and resources for youth to learn how they can get active in their communities. That’s really amazing.
PC: Most states require students to do service to graduate from high school. The opportunities are limited, very limited, especially when it comes to the environment. And they’re very similar to the approaches adults take with kids which is, “You’re a robot and I’m going to tell you (because I know better) how you should do this,” as opposed to engaging young people. What we’re saying is, find something you’re passionate about, and we’ll provide resources to help you get where you want to go. We provide templates, we provide resources, we provide steps that young people can use to come up with their own amazing ideas to become empowered and engaged.
OP: How can teens get involved in their communities? What do you have to say to youth who feel called to make an impact?
PC: I believe that the only true agents of change on a large scale, in this country or anywhere, are young people. We live in an era today where [we] have a vast world of information at [our] fingertips. Young people have, truly, the potential to change the world. Not when they get older—today. I’ve seen young people raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix a problem in their community. I’ve seen young people raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to dig wells in Africa. I’ve seen young people pass laws, largely impacting their communities. They do have the power to change the world. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen a lot of doom and gloom and depressing things, and it’s [the] youth that give me hope.
Ocean Pleasant, 15, travels the globe blogging, interviewing, and encouraging youth to become engaged in their communities. She is building a movement through art, film, and fundraising to instigate local and global change. She founded The Asha Project, working to empower young women living in impoverished communities around the world. The first in her film series, The Asha Project: Silent Voices of India, is due out this year.