I spent the last two weeks with five- to ten-year-olds, scheming ways to make the world a happier, healthier and more beautiful place. They're inventing Trash Robots, to alert us when we toss something that belongs in a recycling bin or a compost pile, like a seltzer can or a banana peel. They're prototyping a Worm Hotel, where dozens (and soon hundreds) of worms live, eat, and work to break down food waste (like that banana peel) and other natural materials like paper and plant parts, turning a mixed-up moist mush into a super soil. A third team is designing a “living mural” for a blighted wall in the backside of their school. This drab and nearly forgotten spot will soon be home to herbs and sprouts and flowers, with bees and butterflies to follow if the lush green wall keeps growing through the summer and into next school year.
Why does it matter? Skeptics will say it doesn’t. Conservation Activists, desperately afraid of a planet full of selfish humans that will blow itself up in the next decade, will say this isn't enough. They'll say we are better off petitioning or lobbying the government, than operating on such a minute local scale. Conservative Thinkers will say that recycling isn't worth the time, energy, or money. That whatever we don't need anymore, be it packaging or food scraps or last season's clothing, is really just trash and trash belongs in the landfills. Keep it simple and move on with life. What's the point of sorting, the use in fighting for a change?
I'm not in either of those camps and I get that familiar icky feeling every time I partake in things that feel unnatural, like wasting something usable or buying produce swathed in plastic or using something only once before discarding it. I'm spoiled to know it matters, because I get to see these kids excited about a future that seems fun, a future that looks a lot like their lives right now. Only with more green and less garbage. More playful and interactive, less foiled by phones and politics and pettiness and self-doubt. We don't do this work because we think the planet can't survive as is, even if the population continues to grow. We do this work because life can be about more than survival. We imagine and build for a world where every living thing is thriving. That future is possible but someone has to show us how.
Why not a group of animated grade schoolers in a beautiful Montana mountain town?
These ideas are meant to help us reuse resources, share what we have, and remember to respect all life. But as time passes and the little shifts start merging, they'll also help restore wild nature. Not only the plants and animals, growing how they yearn to grow, but also the wild side of our spirits. The mischievous side inside us that whispers, isn't there another way?