StokeShare, a gear-sharing organization and community that also works to inspire love and advocacy for the outdoors through recreation, invited Save The Bay to come paddle boarding at China Camp State Park in San Rafael on Halloween. They were looking to bring several organizations together to give ten high school students from San Francisco a free day of recreation and education on the Bay. I normally work behind-the-scenes in the Save The Bay office, but it was an easy choice to volunteer for the job. Paddle boarding, China Camp, and the chance to meet people who are enthusiastic about recreating on the Bay? Sign me up!
This was my first visit to China Camp State Park. When I arrived, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the Bay waters. It was a perfectly still day, and the warm sun shining on China Camp’s historic village made for a serene scene. The volunteer docents greeted me warmly and shared that they talk to state park visitors about Save The Bay every day. We all shared the joy of having a common vision of constantly improving the Bay for future generations.
Building community on the water
Joel and Warren from StokeShare had organized volunteer instructors and paddle boards from a wide group of organizations, another testament to the sense of community that the Bay brings. Once the youth arrived, we all did a group safety training and got in the Bay. The weather was perfect, and everyone successfully stood on their boards. I could see that the youth were enjoying connecting with each other through the activity. It was fun to be outside, sharing our love for the outdoors while bobbing on the water. Everyone present had a permanent smile on their face during our time on the boards.
Inspiration in the brackish water
Going to the shoreline and getting on a paddle board was a personal reminder of why Save The Bay’s work is so important. I adore the perspective of viewing the bay from the water itself, whether it’s atop a ferry, kayak, or paddle board. Being so physically close to the water brings me a sense of being spiritually closer to nature. This personal connection is what fuels my desire to advocate for the Bay every day – whether I’m behind a desk or on a paddle board. After our time on the water, I talked to the kids about the importance of wetlands and the history of the Bay, and how they can each make an impact through their everyday habits. Joel from StokeShare encouraged them to follow their passion for the environment into a career path, using him and myself as examples. Hopefully we provided some inspiration to these high school students. Truly, I believe that the Bay spoke for itself, as we enjoyed the warm brackish water with each other’s company.
A huge thank you goes to Joel and Warren of StokeShare, and the variety of people and organizations that participated in this fantastic event on the water. StokeShare is a mission driven company that aims to create access to the outdoors for everyone. Joel Cesare and Warren Neilson are the co-founders, whose inspiration to begin their organization came to them while surfing at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. They both come from environmental backgrounds and are focusing their personal and professional efforts on environmental advocacy.
As StokeShare says, “people protect what they love, love what they know and know what they experience”. Get outside, enjoy the water, and spread the advocacy for the Bay that we all love.
Pavan Raj Gowda was recently honored with the President’s Environmental Youth award for his environmental stewardship work engaging children with environmental issues.
Caring for the environment has always been part of who I am. At age 8, I expressed my thoughts openly about how a community needs to come together to care for the environment through a story called, “Two Lakes”, which was later included in my first published children story book, Two Tales from a Kid.
With my parents’ encouragement and support, I pursued my passion for caring for our planet by starting my own website, GreenKidsNow.org and published my articles, stories, tips, and ideas. In order to help me take action on my ideas, my parents registered Green Kids Now, Inc., as a 501c(3) non-profit organization. My organization has now completed three years, and in this time frame we have been working hard in many ways to take action.
Moving into our fourth year, my organization will also be focusing on science and innovation. It is very important for everyone to understand that innovation and environmental sustainability should not be seen as two separate things. Most of the issues we are seeing today with us not knowing how to use our raw materials and how to dispose of an item properly — like plastics — is because when people created products they did not consider these things.
But now we know from our previous mistakes and from the issues we are currently facing today, that the right way is for us to think about environmental sustainability from the beginning of creating any product or solution. That’s why my organization will be focusing on showing kids how to responsibly innovate. It is time for us to rethink everything around us today that was created by our past generations. We have a lot of rethinking and redesigning work to do.
Everything we do on land has a direct impact on the oceans too. From ocean warming, toxic chemicals mixing in the waters, our waste floating away and reaching even the most remote parts of oceans, are some examples of how our actions have caused negative consequences. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am able to appreciate the majestic nature of the sea, and love learning about marine life. I can also see first-hand how our actions are negatively impacting ocean processes and ecosystems, which not only impact the marine web of life, but also impact the global balance of life on the land.
The first step in involving people to take action is to first raise their awareness on the environmental issues. People have to come forward by themselves to take action, only then it would be more effective. For that, providing all the data and sharing of information is very important. Through my second published children science fiction, Geckoboy –The Battle of Fracking, I have introduced Biomimicry, as the new method of Innovation, and also showed the side effects of fracking, a method used by oil companies to extract natural gas and oil from the underground.
Let’s all take effort to continue to learn, and do our part in protecting our planet!
— Pavan Raj Gowda
About the Author: Pavan Raj Gowda, 13 years old, from Fremont, CA, is a passionate environmentalist, published author, and founder of non-profit charity organization, Green Kids Now, Inc. He is also the founder of Green Kids Conference.
Abby Goldberg is a 13-year-old girl in Grayslake, IL. who believes that you’re never too young to make a difference. After seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life, she set out to get a local ban on single-use plastic shopping bags passed. This is her story.
In 2011, I began a school project to get my village to ban plastic bags. Since then, I have learned more about the dangers of plastic bags and have a better understanding how my government works and a feel for what activism is all about.
The project literally flew in my face. I’ve documented thousands of blowing bags at my landfill. But, why should people in the Midwest, care about plastic bags so much? Are they really causing any harm? Will a plastic bag really kill a turtle because I automatically accepted a bag with purchase?
I was convinced that if I just told my community about the limited resources we are using to make these bags, AND THE TRUE COST TO THE ENVIRONMENT, that everyone would want a ban. Bag bans are happening all over the world! But, just when I got started, Illinois Senate Bill # 3442 was passed in my state. It would prohibit any local communities from enacting a plastic bag ban. At the same time, retailers, bag makers, and local representatives came up with a feel good compromise to increase the recycling of bags, but bag bans would still be illegal. This way, retailers would never have to deal with different local ordinances regarding plastic bags or lose customers, bag makers could still make more bags, and representatives could feel good thinking they were helping the environment. But plastic bags are not recycled successfully anywhere and recycling is not the answer!
I learned quickly that activists have a huge network of friends who help each other out. Activists in other states, who have worked on bag bans, gave me great advice. I petitioned Governor Quinn through a Change.org petition to veto Senate Bill #3442. With a network of new friends, and the help of social media, I was able to get 175,000 signatures and I am happy to report, the Governor did veto that bill.
It wasn’t just my lone voice, but other voices too, that understood that this bill was an example of bag makers and special interest groups influencing politics. And it could happen in other states. We stood up against money, collectively screamed, got noticed, and now towns in my state have a choice about how they want to solve their plastic bag problem. We believed that power and money should not influence government to tell a community what to do.
After the veto, I started a Facebook page, ActivistAbby, and began visiting local schools to speak with kids about the issue. Kids will understand that making disposable items out of materials that last forever is a problem. There is no away when it comes to plastic.
I tell the kids that they have power to change their world. We may not have money, lobbyists working for us, or a vote, but we do have our voices. Anyone can write letters to representatives, work with other activists, and simply start petitions. I tell them that if they see something that makes them angry or something they’re passionate about, they should ask for help and educate themselves. Find other people who care about the issue too. I tell them to find their voices and talk to everyone and anyone. I tell them they are bigger than they think. I tell them that no matter how young or small they are they can make a difference!
A couple of joggers and walkers are on the trail as birds flutter about in the bushes and gulls and geese fly overhead.
Soon enough I hear some voices in the distance, distinguishable to me in much the same way birders can tune in to specific bird calls. “It’s a class of 4th or 5th graders”, I thought to myself.
Led by their teacher, they come up the trail and are greeted by staff from Save The Bay, a regional organization committed to the protection of the San Francisco Bay.
The students are here to do some habitat restoration, but first it is time for introductions and some warm up activities.
Looking at the group of 5th graders, the majority of them are Latino—I can hear their various comments to each other in Spanish though they understand and readily respond to questions in English about marsh habitats, sharks, and food webs.
After some introductions and a “marsh march”, the students make their way to a section marked by flags. A Save The Bay staff member demonstrates the process for planting native plant species.
The kids are eager, still full of energy even after playing an active game to calm and focus them.
But they take to the task with much enthusiasm. Most of the boys run off to several sections while many of the girls calmly and methodically replicate the process of planting: dig the hole, tap the plant out of its casing, line it with the ground, add dirt, add mulch, add water and yell “plant check” for validation of a job well done. Then it is on to planting the next sapling.
The work the students are doing is important for several reasons.
First of all, restoring marshes provides direct habitat to many species that rely on the bay wetlands as a home and migration stops. In restoring the marshes, it also helps bay communities with potential flooding, not to mention the enhanced recreational aspects of having access to beautiful parkland and functioning habitats for wildlife. All of this in the face of marshes at risk from climate change.
But the process also helps connect the students directly with the land and outdoors in proactive ways. And it is heartening to see a group of Latino students so actively engaged.
Earlier in the day I struck up a conversation in Spanish with a parent volunteer. “All but one of them knows Spanish” she said. “And the teachers, though not Latino, know Spanish as well.”
“It’s interesting because I think they thought they were going to pick up trash, but I like that they can come out here and learn about this place.”
I thought about that comment later on as the kids were antsy to start planting and one girl asked if she could just pick up trash—a helpful task, but it is good that kids get to engage with the environment hand- on beyond just litter cleanup, and to engage with it beyond as a lecture or presentation piece. I am reminded of how the writer Richard Louv put it: let them climb trees.
I introduced myself to several students. I noticed that in speaking Spanish to them, their demeanor would change at times—hard to exactly say but it seemed a bit more respectful—con respeto”. Throughout the morning I noticed some of the boys I checked in with would look around to see if I was watching. I would give them a nod, con respeto.
As I left I asked one student what was something that stuck with him about the activities. He responded “how we filled up part of the bay to make houses for people”.
“And what do you thing about that?” I asked.
“Well, people need houses, but animals too.”
The saplings the kids were planting are the future for a healthy marsh habitat—sorely needed homes for the animals. But so too are these kids the sorely needed future—a future that is here now taking care of the natural environment, engaging in its conservation—con respeto.
Jose Gonzalez is an educator with classroom and outdoor experience across all age levels, from elementary to college. Currently he is a Butler-Koshland Fellow with Radio Bilingue and serves as an adjunct faculty member with the National Hispanic University in their Teacher Education Department. He is interested in the intersection of Latinos and environmental conservation issues. Follow him on Twitter @green_chicano @JoseBilingue, see his postings at http://greenchicano.wordpress.com/ and www.greenchicano.com