Children today are unaware of resource conservation

Resource conservation is a topic of discussion that’s absent in most North American homes.  Conservation is also not discussed much in schools, churches, on television, in social media, or anywhere else where children are present. Because they don’t hear about it, children are unaware of it.  By being unaware, children become habituated to not giving any thought to the effects of their behavior where it relates to resource use. A lifestyle that’s not mindful of resource conservation becomes normalized.  We are creatures of habit, and these habits are very hard to break. Children will be better off in later life if they develop habits that support conservation of resources while they are children.

What is meant by resource conservation?

Resource conservation is simply conserving resources such as water, electricity, fuel, etc.   Resource conservation has become an important subject for our time as population growth, production of goods, and consumer demand have placed unprecedented demands on our resources.  Resource conservation results from a mindful intention to conserve, or use less resources, particularly resources that are non-renewable and/or polluting.

How we got here

Several generations ago, families pretty much had to rely on resources that were found, made or grown locally.  Exceptions might have been a cast iron cooking pot, a bible, and a gun for hunting. Then, along came the industrial revolution, bringing with it vast changes.* A diversity of products were manufactured in ever higher quantities and at lower cost. North America became a land of plenty.  Consumption habits changed.  For the first time in human history, the resources and processes used to support normal, every-day lifestyles came from far away, invisible to the consumer.

The hidden costs of consumption

The reality of living on a planet is that resources are limited.  Resource extraction and consumption comes with a cost.  The costs are present at the points of extraction, production, and distribution, and again when the product either gets used up or disposed of.  From the vantage point of most people, the costs are fairly well hidden from view, but the costs are real, and evident in air, soil, lakes, rivers, and oceans. The costs were smaller when the scale of economic activity was smaller.  Today, the costs are large and impactful. The effects of today’s consumption are felt today, and will still be felt in the future.

Who’s promoting conservation?

Forward-looking individuals, organizations, communities, and State and Federal government are all playing a role in conservation.  With the foresight and hard work of many people, forests, grasslands, canyons, mountains, lakes, rivers and shorelines are protected for future generations.  Successful conservation efforts have been achieved by organizations and government agencies whose sole mission is conservation.

These efforts are worthwhile, but they are not the complete answer.  Top-down conservation-focused efforts can result in big achievements, but a vast number of smaller, everyday decisions that people make are opportunities for smaller successes that in aggregate add up to a lot.  These smaller contributions are the seeds of future conservation successes.

Conservation awareness starts in the family

Most children learn their habits of living from their family.  They learn by observing parent behaviors, engaging in family conversations, and  interacting with one another. Lifestyle habits are carried into adolescence and adulthood.  If parents are modelling behaviors that will help their children in the future, then good habits are formed.  When parents act as if the family has an impact on the world around them, their children are more likely to make better choices that lead to better outcomes.

To make conservation habits that last a lifetime, a family first needs to acknowledge that conserving resources has some value. Maybe it deserves a mention or two at the dinner table. The next step might be committing to a few simple actions that will make a difference. The action might be to purchase a more fuel-efficient car, driving less, shopping for foods that don’t have lots of packaging, or upgrading to a more environmentally-friendly heating system like a high-efficiency pellet boiler.  By committing to just these four things, the family’s carbon footprint alone will likely be cut in half or more.

If a family is making these decisions together, it’s likely the children will be receptive to contribute in kind. Parents can help them by supporting and encouraging the right behaviors. For example, children can learn to turn the water off while brushing their teeth, and turn off lights, TVs, and gaming consoles when they’re not being used. If these are family expectations, and it’s agreed that this is how they can pitch in, then it’s more likely the efforts will be successful.

Benefits of Resource Conservation on Children and Families

Having resource conservation instilled at a young age has no downsides for a child. Just like not littering, or being considerate of others, they will develop the self-esteem that comes with contributing, in some small way, to solving some of the big issues they will be facing throughout their lives.

On the other hand, if a child reads and hears about big problems like climate change and ocean acidification, and the child hasn’t been living a life that in any way contributes to a solution, then the child will likely have some issues with it in adolescence and in later life. One term to describe the experience is “dissonance”.  Dissonance can easily manifest in negative ways. Ultimately, dissonance can carry on into future generations.

Different generations can have wedge issues that separate them, particularly with the fast pace of change we all are experiencing. A family that is aligned on important issues such as resource conservation, along with shared experiences and habits that address those issues in positive ways, will probably be closer and happier than they would otherwise be.  The alignment and shared experiences can make the efforts worthwhile.


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*the list is endless, and includes most of what today we take for granted:  running water, indoor plumbing, telephones, electricity, motorized transportation, central heating, air conditioning, dishwashers, clothes washers, dryers, computers, email, supermarkets with foods from all over the world, power tools, radio, television, low-cost clothing and other goods, plastics….