Terrain Johnson and Colleen Contrisciane of Earth Force answer questions
A Class Act
Is it fun to do Earth Force? How do you join the Earth Force project? — Elisse Duvall, Manteo, N.C.
Johnson: Yes, Earth Force is a very fun project, and most kids get involved through their school and clubs that deal with the environment at their school. You can also call or go to the Earth Force website to get involved and learn more.
Contrisciane: Yes, it’s fun to do Earth Force! That’s why I like my job so much. It’s also a lot of hard work.
Do you have to live in a certain area to join Earth Force? — Elisse Duvall, Manteo, N.C.
Johnson: You don’t have to. You can really just talk to your local Earth Force representatives. You should start an environmental program even if there is no Earth Force program in your area.
Contrisciane: To join, it really helps if you have an office nearby to help you get started, but it’s not absolutely necessary. We have a lot of materials that can help you start on your own if you really want to. Check out our website to find out where we’re located. If you don’t see a location near you, you can call our national office at 1.800.23.FORCE or the office closest to you to find out when we’re doing a training near you.
What is your best advice for getting other kids to get involved? Has it been difficult to get a sincere and lasting commitment from kids your age? — Karen Johnson, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Johnson: I think parents are the key to getting kids involved in the environment because kids follow what their parents do and that is important. I admit it has been hard, but we got them to be sincere after a period of time.
Contrisciane: My best advice for getting other kids involved is to help them find out what their interests are. Many people, young or old, who claim they’re not “really environmental” find that they have some other social or political concerns that often relate back to the environment once they’ve done some research on the topic. I’ve found that the youth who are really committed and dedicated are often the ones who have someone to support them, be it a teacher, a neighbor, or a parent. So if you’re a young person looking to get involved with something you’re concerned about, commit yourself to working on it, then find someone who thinks you have a good idea and who might be able to give you some advice.
What was the thing that really helped you be motivated to get started? — Crispina French, Great Barrington, Mass.
Johnson: I really just enjoyed doing it, and it was fun so I said I would stick with it for the long run. This is a very good organization, and I like it.
Contrisciane: Once I started becoming interested in environmental action, I started seeking out other people who were interested in the same work. Sometimes it was a teacher, sometimes a community group, other times a peer who was just as interested or excited as I was. Once you start finding others who want to work on the same issues you do, it becomes a lot easier to motivate yourself … because you have others to motivate you too.
Is Earth Force a long-term thing or is it just something you do for a certain period of time? Is there a certain person that you work with or is it just a single-person project? — Elisse Duvall, Manteo, N.C.
Johnson: You can do numerous projects. You make it a long-term process or short-term project depending on the amount of time you want to do it.
Contrisciane: It depends. Generally the projects last a school year or shorter just so it’s feasible for an Earth Force teacher to have her class finish a project within a year. Sometimes, though, we’ll have a few students who were so motivated by the project they did that they will continue to work on it after they leave that teacher. Most of our projects are done by an entire class or a class will break up into small groups and each group will work on a project. Sometimes a student will do an independent project … it really depends on the teacher. One of the beauties of Earth Force is that the CAPS program offers a framework that is very accessible for teachers in any environment. It leaves room for a lot of flexibility and creativity.
Why seek water filters at your school before official water test results are in? A water taste opinion survey may give information, but will it persuade budget-conscious decision-makers? I’m glad you’re getting involved and making a difference locally, and you are a great role model for your peers. Keep it up! Good luck. — David Hohmann, Columbus, Ohio
Johnson: I thank you for the comment, and I really don’t think it should matter if we did testing before or after because I think if they would do what they are supposed to then they wouldn’t have to worry about their budget.
What do you consider the greatest environmental threat to the planet at this time? — Karen White, Houston, Texas
Contrisciane: Vehicles. Exhaust is bad for the air, motor oil is the world’s biggest culprit of non-point-source water pollution, and vehicles are essential to a huge percentage of the world’s population. It’s something about which everyone is aware, yet most feel like they have little control. I really don’t like that my lifestyle requires a car. On one hand, I have made certain decisions that require me to have a car, but on the other, I was born into a society where the overarching cultural constructs are hugely car dependent. It’s a dilemma a lot of people wrestle with. Sure, we car-users can purchase wind power to offset our impacts, buy local produce and products, and ride bikes when we can (which I’m a big proponent of), but at the end of the day, we still need to get from here to there.
In your future business goal, Terrain, would you be subsidizing messy companies if you go around cleaning up after them all the time? I pick up other people’s litter all the time, but I also report littering in progress and hope somebody else starts getting the message. A useful strategy might be to invest profits in helping others prevent pollution up front, saving money and reducing waste from that point forward in time. Good luck in a sustainable business venture! — David Hohmann, Columbus, Ohio
Johnson: I think that is a very good idea. I really would have to get more connections for that, but no work, no gain.
Terrain, I was born and raised in Philadelphia, so I cannot tell you how proud I am of you, and I’m happy that you are doing so much good for our beautiful hometown. Is there a network of community gardeners and others who are trying to do what you do throughout the city? — Mark Stephen Caponigro, New York, N.Y.
Johnson: I really am not sure. The lady who owns the garden that I help with does know a lot of people who garden so I think we really could organize something of that kind. Thank you for the idea, and I will make sure to credit it to you.
As a vegetarian, I am convinced that refraining from consuming meat is one of the most valuable steps a person can take to enhance the quality of the environment. Colleen, do you promote vegetarianism to the students with whom you work? — Marylou Noble, Portland, Ore.
Contrisciane: I don’t exactly promote it, but I always try to talk about individual actions and how they impact the environment. Many students don’t see a clear connection between their behavior and the effect of their behavior on the environment, so I’ll use whatever I can to start getting them to see the connection. Sometimes that means having a discussion about land use for cattle or the environmental effects of chicken farming. We did have one school last year do an outreach campaign in their community and two schools promoting the purchase of free-range products and educating people about why factory farming is bad.
I am concerned that as an ecosystem, Wissahickon Creek does not support as diverse a fauna as it might; I am thinking especially of fish and migratory birds. Can you tell me anything about that? How pure nowadays is the Wissahickon? — Mark Stephen Caponigro, New York, N.Y.
Contrisciane: Amen! I’m also concerned. I do know the water quality of the Wissahickon has improved dramatically over the last 100 years. Just last year a huge sewer main along the creek was repaired because it was leaking raw sewage into it. One of the more impressive parts of that project is that the problem was found by a group of concerned citizens who took it upon themselves to do the water-quality testing. Some of our classes are actually helping with bird counts, but the calculating is still being done.
Colleen, I’m sorry your students beat you up that time. Yet I’m glad you are making a positive difference in kids’ lives through Earth Force, and I hope you keep that inspiration alive for a long time. Many of us outside of urban schools need causes for hope. Martin Luther King would have liked this kind of nonviolent “Force” approach. I hope Grist readers will support Earth Force and maybe help spread it to more areas. — David Hohmann, Columbus, Ohio
Contrisciane: Well said. I hope Grist readers will support us too!