Engaging the Unengaged: Innovating Environmental Outreach
I remember when, back in 2015, my longtime friend Elizabeth Gierl was planning a new environmental project. It was to be a blog that gave young people the opportunity to explore and engage with environmentalism on their own terms. Crucially, particular attention was paid to attracting writers who had not yet considered their lives through an ecological lens. In other words, the project’s focus was less on engaging its readers and more on quietly making environmentalists of its authors.
Elizabeth’s project became The Green Medium and there is no doubt in my mind that, fifty writers later, Elizabeth’s methods worked. Back in 2015, she referred to her approach as “engaging the unengaged” – a simple phrase that underlies a complex approach to environmentalism. Unlike so many of the other concerns we are faced with everyday, environmental issues aren’t as visible. Climate change has no clear beginning and end, no “finish line”, no simple solution, and no black-and-white morality. It’s difficult to stay engaged in the face of so abstract a crisis.
To engage the unengaged in environmentalism, then, means breaking down the abstract nature of this global crisis. It means relating the complex nature of environmental issues to an individual’s everyday life. This connection is what The Green Medium sought to create by allowing writers to approach environmentalism from their own perspectives, and it is what we will be exploring here.
How have different organizations taken on this challenge of engagement, what are the challenges of such an approach, and how can you engage the unengaged in your own life? To answer these questions and more, we will look at how previous Emerald Award winners have tackled the issue of engagement in their own unique ways. The first is the Evergreen Theatre Society, who teach and engage children about climate change through musical theatre. The second is Captain Nichola Goddard School, which motivates its students to commute to school in environmentally friendly ways through a unique, school-wide challenge. These two examples will be the basis for my final article, a sort of Green Medium crash course on getting the people around you involved: the Five Terms of (Environmental) Engagement.
(Cover image provided by the Evergreen Theatre Society)