“The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price.” Wangari Maathai

Nature has long been a source of inspiration for poetry, which is in some ways an attempt to describe in words the awe which nature invokes. It could be argued that nature is the basis for all human knowledge, as fields like art and philosophy, mathematics and science all draw their basic tenets from the observation of nature. How much more must there be to learn from nature-teacher during a crisis? 

Climate change will have a tremendous impact on young people’s lives, because in essence modern prosperity is borrowed from their future a debt that must be repaid. In their lifetimes, youth will face the brunt of complex and cascading climate risks. Complex, because the shocks and ‘slow-burn’ affect many ecological and economic sectors in interconnected, yet hyperlocal ways, including forced changes in production and consumption patterns, and even potentially unforeseen consequences of mitigation. Climate risks are cascading because there are often secondary and tertiary effects of climate change including impacts on sectors like education, which could have long-term implications for sustainable development a disappointing inheritance for future generations.

Quest4Earth (Q4E) is an environmental awareness and stewardship initiative powered by STEAM (adding Art to STEM using hip-hop and multimedia storytelling) to engage young people in climate justice. An initiative of Tiz Media Foundation, Q4E is an adaptation of our MindRap hip-hop program, drawing on the awe-inspiring character of nature to guide youth using engineering design and art, and to activate them as agents of change. It is a platform for young people to learn the impacts and solutions to the climate crisis using culture, creativity, and hope. The goal is to help youth understand the environmental justice crisis, the science behind it, and how to be resilient in the face of these sweeping changes. 

The need for informed science to drive decision-making could not be more apparent than in today’s new normal crisis. The impact of over two generations of climate denial is glaringly apparent, as many young people come into the Q4E program knowing more about the controversy and less of the science behind climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a road map to restore science in government decisions, prompted by concerns about the growing number of climate change deniers in key government positions, and a deficit of science in governance and decision making. One key proposal is to raise the overall scientific knowledge of the general population, develop our overall technical capacities and expertise, and thereby increase the accountability of decision-makers. 

Through practical, hands-on, and fun projects, young people have been learning how to apply the objective foresight gained by understanding climate science, and learning how it informs the Evanston Climate Action and Resilience Plan. When these lessons are then codified in spoken word poetry, translated into PSAs, hip hop videos and dance, or expressed as sculpture and art pieces, a deeper understanding happens. Overall, youth learn climate science by engaging with the issues, and over time a cohort of young people have stayed on, using their own experiences to mentor and train younger students. Quest4Earth mentor, Nyel Rollins, says “I think saving the earth is important because so many people come after me and I want or earth to be healthy and same for those future generations.”

Many young people attending Q4E programs live in areas where there are environmental hazards and sparse ecological assets like trees and gardens. Consequently, Q4E focuses on environmental justice in the curriculum, drawing on young people’s sense of fairness and social good, while also engaging in hands-on activities like restoring migratory bird habitat and setting up experiments to understand the greenhouse effect at the beach. 

Q4E has been a space for young people to be inspired by the decades of community effort, and the leadership of the City of Evanston in addressing issues of climate justice with intentionality and consistency. For the past six years, Tiz Media has been aligning Q4E activities with the Evanston Sustainability Department’s plans. The Evanston City Council recently passed a resolution to address environmental justice in Evanston, “acknowledging the harm that communities of color have experienced due to environmental injustices and outlining specific, corrective actions the City will take to support and protect the health and well-being of all residents.”

Tiz Media intends to integrate aspects of the resolution into future programs, as it is in line with our organizational goals and long term aspirations for the city and its youth. We hope that engaging young people from communities most vulnerable to environmental and climate risks in the work of building a climate-resilient and just Evanston also creates the conditions that nurture the next generation of scientists and science-informed citizens.

Abraham Mwaura is Assistant Program Director for Tiz Media. He is a consultant based in Geneva Switzerland 

Melanie West is a co-founder of Tiz Media and is currently a Ph.D. student at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.