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Question & Answer

Water World

Philippe Cousteau takes the plunge into environmental service learning.

Photo credit: Earth Echo International

Filmmaker and environmentalist Philippe Cousteau, Jr., grandson of legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, is diving into the family legacy while charting his own course as storyteller, explorer, and environmentalist.

Marine conservationist Philippe Cousteau, Jr., is helping young people explore their connections to our ocean.

Photo credit: Walt Stearns

He’s the ocean correspondent for both the Animal Planet and Planet Green channels, the chief spokesperson for Environmental Education for Discovery Education, and president and CEO of D.C.-based Earth Echo International, an environmental conservation organization he founded with his sister Alexandra that empowers school kids to protect the planet’s most precious resource—water.

Just as his grandfather allowed people to explore the sea through film, Philippe wants a new generation to explore their connections to the oceans and the environment through service learning.

We talked to Cousteau about how the growing green movement can help save our blue planet.

Why are you engaging school-aged children in the fight to save the planet?

I grew up believing in the power of young people.  My grandfather used to talk all the time about the importance of empowering youth as change agents in society.  My own experiences have reinforced that.  From seeing young people passing laws to raising millions of dollars, we know they have incredible potential if we tap into it. I always say that youth are not just the leaders of tomorrow but also the leaders of today.

How can we help young people become leaders in the green movement?

The young people I meet every day are concerned about the state of the environment and they are determined to make positive changes. They just need the right tools and a voice. That’s why we created STREAM—STudents Reporting Environmental Action through Media—in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.  There was a lot of frustration among kids , who felt totally powerless in the face of such a disaster.  STREAM helps them turn their passion into action by establishing youth journalism bureaus in their own communities.

We provide them with a multimedia digital publishing platform, workshops with industry professionals, and leadership programs in the field of environmental journalism.

What is the most urgent environmental problem you hope school communities will be inspired to address?

If we truly want to save and protect our water planet for future generations, we need to empower a new generation to understand the very real connections between their communities’ priorities and today’s critical ocean and fresh water issues. I remember hearing my grandfather say that water is the single most precious substance on the planet. Now in the 21st century, the health of both salt and fresh water systems is in even more of a crisis than he imagined. Already one-fifth of the world’s population lives without an adequate supply of fresh water.

We recently launched the Water Planet Challenge, an online portal that’s all about giving middle and high school students the knowledge and tools to take action in their communities. There are service learning projects they can dive right into that will help conserve and clean our water supply today.

Cousteau travels around the country to visit schools and help students turn their passion for the environment into action.

Photo credit: Earth Echo International

How does the future look to you?

I think things are looking increasingly positive.  Ten years ago many of the critical environmental issues weren’t getting the attention they are today—from ocean acidification to realistic market-based solutions to the energy crisis and deforestation—the dialogue is happening and the global market is beginning to take the problems as well as the potential business opportunities surrounding the solutions seriously.  That is a good sign.  We still have a long way to go though, and I hope that we learn to embrace young people more as an active part of the solution.

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “we cannot always prepare the future for our youth, but we can prepare our youth for the future.”

Philippe Cousteau, Jr., is a partner of NEA’s “Green Across America” initiative, a green schools program promoting environmental education and green projects by members, students, policy-makers, and communities for the benefit of environmental health and student achievement.

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