Daily Herald opinion: Teaching kids to be climate optimists sets course for a brighter future

  • The rooftop garden on Stevenson High School's recently renovated east building supports instruction in biology and botany classes.

    The rooftop garden on Stevenson High School's recently renovated east building supports instruction in biology and botany classes. COURTESY OF STEVENSON HIGH SCHOOL

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 11/18/2022 6:05 AM

There is hope, and then there is optimism. They are not precisely the same thing.

There are those of us who laugh at the science, or ignore it, who roll their eyes when world climate leaders tell us we must aggressively pull back on petroleum use and carbon emissions or we'll reach a point of no return sooner than anticipated and our children and our children's children face a bleaker world than the one we live in.


Those of us who shrug at what might be headed our way merely hope for the best.

Hope is wishful thinking, an emotional response.

Optimism, on the other hand, is an application of deeds upon which to base one's hope of a better outcome.

In the words of English writer Nick Hornby: "Hope is a liar, a cheat and a tease. Hope comes near you, kick its backside. Got no place in days like these."

The world today could do with a little more optimism.

Daily Herald climate writer Jenny Whidden this week wrote about efforts at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein to teach kids a lifestyle of environmental consciousness in which we consider the effects of what we do each day and act with greater prudence and purpose.

"We try to target (climate change) from a critical standpoint without creating climate anxiety, which is absolutely a real threat," Michelle Titterton, the science department chair at Carmel, told Whidden.

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"How do we do that? I think, for us, it's about being climate optimists. It's about getting people excited about what it would be like to have this clean lifestyle and how everyone can be a part of that."

Titterton is the school's sustainability manager. She earned her master's degree in the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her goal is not only to set her students on a course to be more environmentally responsible, but also to spread the word.

"As an educator, and as a science teacher, I just feel passionate about not only educating our students but their families," she said. "When we teach, we're not just teaching the kids, we're teaching the whole family and the whole community."

Environmental classes have been added to the curriculum. Students monitor how much food goes to waste in the cafeteria and where it goes -- landfill or composting. They find ways to limit electricity use. The school replaced all of its lighting with LEDs.


It's not just Carmel making strides. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire's east building is the first net-zero building in the state -- it produces more energy than it uses -- with walls of plants, a rooftop greenhouse, gardens and a large solar array.

It's easy to fall into climate despair. But, as the midterm elections have reminded us, every individual effort matters.

As another English writer, Robert Swan, says: "The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it."

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