Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Constantly seeking shining examples of individuals and organizations rebuilding our world, I am continually amazed by the level of passion and fervor of young conservationists. In an increasingly polluted world, the younger generation seems to operate with a sense of urgency. Coupled with a mindset full of possibilities, passionate youth, such as siblings Olivia and Carter at One More Generation (OMG), are determined to find solutions to complex problems, such as ocean degradation and biodiversity loss. Teaching others, especially kids, to love and care for the environment is a vital part of spreading conservation, and the non-profit OMG is dedicated to this mission, as well as saving endangered species for at least one more generation… and beyond.
OMG founders, 10 and 11 year old Olivia and Carter Ries, recount how deeply affected they were during their time volunteering in the Gulf Coast oil clean-up efforts. Upon returning to Georgia, they created the Plastic Awareness Coalition, uniting several organizations to help counter-act this misuse and damage. In hopes to expand their opportunities to educate, they developed a Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum. The curriculum is used, in and out of schools, teaching the next generation how they can bring about change.
The misuse and improper disposal of plastic is a major threat to the ocean and marine life. A number of national policies, as well as international laws, now forbid dumping of harmful materials into the ocean, but plastic pollution is another issue altogether. In this interview post, Olivia and Carter speak about inspiring the next generation to create positive change for the environment:
PBH: Why the name One More Generation?
Carter: We learned that a lot of species might actually become extinct in our lifetime. We knew we had to act. Our goal is to help all endangered species survive One More Generation… and beyond, so our next generation can enjoy their presence. We do this by raising awareness and offering educational outreach programs teaching everyone how dire the situation is and how we must get involved.
PBH: Why is it important for everyone to care about the ocean? Folks who live in the Midwest obviously don’t live near the ocean, it easier for them to just worry about the land. Why should they care about oil spills or plastic pollution in our oceans?
Carter: Everything and everyone is affected by improperly disposed plastic. The plastic is carried off by the wind and rain and eventually settles into our oceans. Plastic only breaks apart by the mixture of the suns UV rays and saltwater. The breakdown causes the plastic to become a type of magnet, attracting impurities in the water, increasing its toxicity. With time, these toxic pieces of trash break up into smaller pieces looking more like potential food for the several species. Larger species, not actively or directly ingesting plastic, are most certainly ingesting smaller creatures that have already ingested plastic. These larger species are popular entrees consumed by us. Over 100,000 marine mammals and over one million seabirds die each year from plastic ingestion or entanglement. Everyone, no matter where you live, is responsible for the damage. We’re the only ones who have the ability to change what we’ve done.
PBH: Your organization has created a curriculum to educate, not only adults, but educate kids as well. Why is it important for kids to learn about conservation and environmentalism?
Olivia: The void in proper education/knowledge towards plastic and recycling was created from the lack of knowledge and education in older generations.
We’ve often noticed students taking our week-long Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum are eager to pass their knowledge along to their families, friends and communities. We teach getting away from single use plastic bags and using reusable stainless steel/aluminum water bottles. Both of these ideas will immensely cut down the plastic pollution created everyday.
Younger generations operate with a sense of urgency towards the pollution in our environment. Their mindset is full of possibilities, as opposed to one of being restricted by hurdles and opposition.
PBH: How difficult has it been getting school and organizations to agree to helping out and using the curriculum? If it has been difficult, what are the biggest reasons for the difficulties?
Carter: Generating interest in schools wishing to implement our Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum is easy. 100% of every school and or community organization we speak with wants the full week-long program implemented.
The biggest hurdle we face is funding. Due to budget cuts in schools, PTO and PTAs are paying portions of the funds needed. The community needs to seek out assistance from local businesses to supplement the costs that may be lacking.
Our program is a comprehensive week-long curriculum, with a daily one-hour educational program that meets National Standards for Science teaching. Teachers then have the opportunity to complete several annually required segments. Right now we are working towards grant funding that will help schools fund the use of the curriculum.
PBH: Conservation is ever-changing and there is so much ground to cover. How do you want to see your organization grow and continue to make a difference?
Olivia: Plastic pollution has been affecting the earth for the past 40 years. Today we are seeing more and more of the toxic side effects of plastics. We now realize that the way we have been using plastics must change. Education is key to finding potential solutions. We are adamant about staying current with new findings. Staying current, lets us tweak our programs and educational opportunities.
PBH: With the Plastic Awareness Coalition, you realized the need to work with like-minded organizations. The need to connect to others and their passions is vital to growth. In your experience, what are the best ways organizations can communicate their passions in order to achieve better connections and growth?
Carter: The Plastic Awareness Coalition is one of the most important initiatives we created. We realized One More Generations lacked expertise and recognition needed to get our communities attention. We needed other reputable organizations to give us much more needed credibility.
Originally, we rushed into communities and attempted to get meetings with local mayors and council-members. This expediency only produced blank stares and ‘Who are you, again?’
The coalition allows us instant access to some of the best minds in the industry. The coalition opened so many more doors for us. Members are constantly sharing information and making recommendations for solutions and ideas for change.
PBH: The GreenWell initiative seeks to provide zoos with more sustainably grown and healthier food options for the animals. With overfishing present in so many fisheries, has One More Generation worked on initiatives or worked with other organizations to obtain the same results for aquariums and other aquatic animal centers?
Olivia: Though many centers provide a valuable education, we aren’t strong believers of animal captivity. The goal is to provide tasty, healthy and sustainably grown meals for these animals. We want to make their time as pleasurable as possible. Currently, we are working on programs designed to meet the needs of zoos, nature centers, animal rescue centers and aquariums. We want to encourage kids everywhere to grow select produce and foods to be given to the centers in their area.
PBH: What’s the best way to keep up with what your organization is doing and how people can help you out?
Olivia: We recommend our fans ‘like’ us on FaceBook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter, as well as looking at our website. We update all of these whenever we can. We really want to encourage any organizations and individuals, interested in supporting our efforts, to talk to us. We really hope to see our environmental education programs and endangered species outreach programs made available to communities across the country.
PBH: What’s your best advice on how others can start making a difference in their communities?
Carter: Olivia and I had been adopting Cheetah’s from South Africa for years and when we realized that Cheetah’s and many other species could become extinct in the wild; we knew we had to act. You need to decide where your passions lie. Volunteering is an excellent way to figure that out. You may never know where your passion will take you, but you will certainly never find out if you don’t get involved in something.
Carter and Olivia’s passion serves as an inspiring testament to the influence of young conservationists. It is the growth and expansion of such dedication that sows the seeds of hope for future generations.
So what will I tell the next Chicken Little that rambles on about the skying fall? I’ll share with them OMG’s story about rebuilding the world and I hope you will too.
- Author: Anthony Gills
- Chief Editor: Christine Beggs