Sunday, June 20, 2010

Not in My Backyard Will Become Not in My Ocean

Will the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and images of oil slicked pelicans and blackened sea life, that our children are sharing on YouTube and Facebook, create a new generation of fanatically environmentalist kids? That’s what I’m betting on.

I’m dating myself, but I still remember the black and white concentration camp films we watched in New York City public elementary schools  in the 1960s. We were very young, but the message was clear. They imprinted the raw footage taken by soldiers of gaunt, hollow-eyed concentration camp survivors on an entire generation of American children, so they would never let it happen again.  

Many parents in my generation are very conservative - about what they allow their kids to watch and the trust they place in them. Some won’t let them watch PG-13 movies, set rigid controls on their computers restricting them to pre-approved Web sites, lock up the liquor and drug cabinets, and review what’s permitted  and what’s not before every play date. 

I don’t agree.  Maintaining the innocence of childhood is wonderful, but turning off major events as they unfold in the world around us - childproofing our children rather than teaching - is doing our kids a disservice. They need to know and understand this environmental disaster, and make their own choices because if they don’t, their friends  will do it for them.

Not only is my 10 year-old daughter furious at BP and the images they are glued to on the endless stream of YouTube, she’s questioning how something like this could happen. The only good that can come of it – and I keep telling her this over and over – is that it will never be allowed happen again and she will be a part of that. Do I believe what I’m telling her? Not really, but what else can you say.

A quick Google search found little written about the lasting effect of disasters on children although I know there's a lot out there. As a marketer and a mother I know the power of even the most positive of images and the messages that accompany them.

When my kids were smaller, they would watch ads on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon and a persistent drumbeat would start of asking for whatever had caught their attention. Children are relentless when they want something. And that was just toys.

Fast forward and picture today’s elementary school children a decade from now, standing on the west coast of Florida and asking "Mommy where are all the seagulls?" We could lose the gulf of Mexico just as the Europeans lost parts of the Rhine 30 years ago because of chemical dumping. They cleaned up most of it but it took a very long time. Children are very intuitive and even now they are starting to understand how bad a mess their parents have made, and left for them to clean-up.  

I believe the backlash against Big Oil will rival the “Not in My Backyard” movement against nuclear power plants that started after Three Mile Island and was cemented into our global consciousness with Chernobyl.  No nuclear plant has been built on American soil in more than 30 years, and despite the best efforts of the industry, lukewarm presidential support and the industry's PR people, it’s still a giant maybe.

If 1970s apathetic teens could fight the battle against nuclear – our kids should be able to shut down deep sea drilling.

Optimism is a rare commodity these days , but a new generation of environmentalists might just be our best hope yet.  

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