So why does it often feel like family values are a different set of interests than environmental values?
More likely than not, this is based only on outward appearances. The thought of family values might make one think of a warm home, and the thought of environmental values might make somebody imagine a dense forest. The term family-oriented might conjure up mental images of a family gathered around a dinner table, while the term environmentalist might make you think of students at a demonstration.
To be fair, there are discussions that question how growing families contribute to increasing carbon emissions at a global level. But from a broader perspective, family values align with environmental values in ways that don’t get enough credit.
One only needs to look outside of the United States and most Western cultures in order to notice the alignment. The regions of the world that place the greatest emphasis on family cohesion and traditional family structures are found in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. These also happen to be the parts of the world that express the most concern over climate change, and the greatest desire for solutions.
In these settings, many people understand that the caring for the environment results in a better future for one’s children and grandchildren.
Messoyel, a farmer in Haiti, notes that environmental restoration has improved his ability to provide for his children. “When you love your family, you have to take care of your family. If you love your family, you can’t stand to see your children suffering with hunger.”
When Messoyel couldn't provide, it damaged his confidence and spirit. Now he takes pride in his ability to provide. “I myself love to see when my children say ‘daddy, I have a problem,’ and I am able to reach into my pocket and say ‘here my child, I can help.”
Research has also shown us that conversations within families are the most effective vehicle for shifting beliefs and behaviors related to the environment. A study from North Carolina State University last year discovered that the greatest influence on people who considered the environment to be a low priority was their middle-school-aged children. Conversely, some of the biggest mental health-related challenges teenagers today face are environmental anxieties. When a teenager feels comfortable processing these thoughts with his or her family, outcomes improve.
What implications might that have for us? It means that family values and environmental values strongly overlap. And as we further explore their intersection, we discover this: a society with stronger families is more capable of protecting the environment. And a healthy environment can help keep families together.
Environmental security keeps families together
When Southern Mexico faced extended droughts, soil infertility, and harsh climate, Eleuterio found the challenge of growing food and earning an income to be insurmountable. “I knew that something had to change,” he explains. “So I went north, I immigrated to the United States. I thought that would make things better.”
The process of migrating separated him from his new wife, Yolanda.
“When he decided to leave and go to the states I was left alone. I wondered if he would ever return," she shared. "I lost hope that we would ever have a family.”
Eleuterio eventually returned home, and when he did, he started to see how healing the land would make it so he would never need to leave home again. “I planted trees,” he explained. “The area is regenerating.”
Eleuterio's community now has healthy soil. They can produce enough vegetables to sell and to feed his family.
This experience is commonplace across families in the region and in many other regions of the world.
Many women get left alone to care for children as men pursue work opportunities in other locations.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, about 18 million people had to leave their homes in the previous year. Cities across the Sahel region of Africa are preparing for rapid expansion as more and more rural residents are moving to urban locations in search of work opportunities. The demand for opportunities is a large contributor to human trafficking, family separation, and other forms of exploitation.
A healthier planet would take the pressure off of families in rural areas to leave in search of better opportunities.
There would be fewer absent parents and more children enrolled in school.
Children would be able to access better nutrition and eat more food.
The goal is to hand off a better life to future generations
Environmentalism is a family value.
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe began to ask her audiences a question she frequently receives: What gives you hope? As she collected their responses, one answer was the clear-cut winner. Children.
The growing concern and enthusiasm of students have encouraged many.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Gutierres acknowledged that the voices of young people gave him more hope towards the future. “These schoolchildren have grasped something that seems to elude many of their elders”, he said.
As adults become parents, many then express a new sense of urgency around protecting the Earth’s ecosystems, and that motivation can have positive results.
Others, still, see parenthood as an opportunity to contribute towards building a future generation that develops much-needed breakthroughs in sustainability. One columnist, Tyler Cowen, explained how having kids provides parents with the opportunity to raise them to be part of the solution.
Leave this world a little better than you found it.
Robert Baden-Powell included this phrase in his last message at the age of 84. These words further align with family and environmental values.
Each generation of a family seeks to create opportunities for the next generation that weren’t available before.
Parents consistently hope their children’s lives and opportunities exceed their own.
Plant With Purpose’s international members understand this goal best. Jah Cho, a father and grandfather puts it this way: “When we talk about sustainability, we need to talk about the past. If we don’t understand the past, we can’t look at the future. Sustainability means I will pass on land, farmland and cattle, but also knowledge to my children.”
Plant With Purpose works to promote sustainability in nearly 1,000 villages around the world. In doing so, it has contributed to stronger and more secure families in each of those villages. This is only possible through the support of generous donors. To make a contribution to Plant With Purpose, follow this link!
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