The Earth Day generation

The current generation of schoolchildren has grown up with Earth Day. They've celebrated it at school and often at home. It's spawned a regular part of their school curriculum as they're taught about recycling, organic gardening, endangered species, pollution, solar and other types of renewable energy, as well as everyday steps they and their families can take. And many have embraced this wholeheartedly.

Does this make today's kids more knowledgeable about geoscience and environmental issues? More aware of global environmental issues? More likely to take steps that they feel will help protect and improve the world? More willing to help find solutions to possible environmental challenges of the future?

Some answers are found in a survey and a study released in time for Earth Day.

As you might expect, most high school students worldwide are familiar with the common environmental issues -- air pollution, energy shortages, and extinction of plants and animals. However -- and this may come as a surprise -- there's little correlation between students feeling responsible for the environment and how proficient they are in environmental science.

Actually, the ones who demonstrate the least environmental knowledge are the most optimistic (often wildly so) about the solutions to problems that may be facing the earth over the next two decades.

So says a study ("Green at 15?") funded by the National Science Foundation. Click here to download a free PDF of the study, which assessed the environmental awareness, attitudes, and science expertise of 15-year-olds in 57 countries.

In Des Moines, Iowa ( (the state in which President Obama will spend part of Earth Day and reportedly encourage more renewable energy, especially wind power), 140 middle schoolers were asked about their attitudes toward the environment and what actions they or their families take.

The 10-to-12-year-olds surveyed over the past six months at Merrill Middle School love to recycle. They make sure their families do it and even take the time to pull recyclables from regular trash and put them in the proper bins.

But only 26 percent unplug computers and television sets when they're not in use to save electricity. Still, a majority turn off the water when they're brushing their teeth, and more than 60 percent say their family eats at least some local food (easier, of course, for students in the farm belt).

It's easy for adults to dismiss youthful environmental enthusiasm and efforts, but others consider it a good base for increasing knowledge. One student writes in an essay quoted in "Growing Up Green," the Iowa report: "I think in order to make the country more aware of the impact it's leaving, schools need to do more thinking about how to teach kids about the environment. If everyone becomes more aware, the country will be much 'greener.' "

And that's an issue that "Green at 15" also embraces: finding the best way to teach environmental science to the next generation.

Bonus Earth Day question: Which president created the Environmental Protection Agency?

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