Dear EarthTalk: We just
started an environmental club at our school. What issues
and activities do you recommend we get involved with to make
the most difference?
–Kurt Perry, Cedar Park, TX
Participating in an environmental club is an excellent way
for students to learn about environmental issues while providing
measurable benefit to their community.
Given their local orientation, most clubs focus on issues close
to home. Many undertake hands-on activities such as cleaning
up local riverbanks and beaches strewn with litter, restoring
degraded wildlife habitat, and planting and managing a community
organic garden. Other worthy ideas include starting a recycling
program (or setting up a compost bin) on school grounds, involving
the school or community in measuring and lowering their “carbon
footprint,” organizing energy— and emissions— saving
carpools for students who drive, and asking school officials
to print all documents double-sided (to save paper).
Another way for an environmental club to get involved is to
offer assistance to a local green group already working on
a project, be it an effort to preserve a threatened parcel
of open space, promote bus ridership, get a wind turbine installed
in town, or pressure a local polluter to clean up its act.
Polling club members on what issues matter most to them is
a good way to get started on picking projects and activities.
Several national nonprofit organizations also help environmental
clubs find focus areas and accomplish their goals. One of the
leaders is EarthTeam, formed in 2000 with the mission of “creating
a new generation of environmental leaders” by introducing
teens to inspiring environmental experiences. The group’s
Web site offers up extensive resources for starting an environmental
club, finding resources, and getting going on various environmental
projects. The group also helps facilitate collaboration among
Some popular events among EarthTeam clubs include tree plantings,
river and beach clean-ups, visits to local wetlands and nature
preserves, and holding environmental awareness days at schools.
Movie nights are also popular. Showing a relevant environmental
documentary on the big screen in a student venue is a sure
way to get a larger membership base and stir up student interest.
Some recent releases that might stimulate discussion and ideas
include: The Cost of Cool, an in-depth look at the environmental
consequences of excessive consumerism, hosted by former Baywatch
star Alexandra Paul; A Crude Awakening, about the impact of
global oil dependency; and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient
Another great resource is Earth Tomorrow, a national network
of high school environmental clubs administered by the National
Wildlife Federation. Through the network, clubs gain access
to a wide range of resources on which they can base projects.
Examples include the Schoolyard Habitats How-to Guide, which
walks students through the steps involved in enhancing wildlife
habitat and ecological health on school grounds, and the science
and civics program, which shows students how to use science,
economics, the law, and politics to address a local conservation
issue and implement an action plan. Beyond these pre-packaged
resources, Earth Tomorrow members can tap each other for project
ideas, help, and general guidance to help make their club experience
as productive and rewarding as possible.