Protecting the Future of the Environment – One Tree at a Time: An Interview with Miku Higashi
World Environment Day is commemorated annually on 5 June. Since it was first celebrated in 1974, global concerns such as climate change, global warming, desertification and deforestation continue to threaten the planet. The protection of our environment remains a top priority as the world aspires to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Safeguarding future generations is a common goal and many young people have mobilized their communities and spearheaded efforts for environmental protection. One such young person, Miku Higashi, a dedicated environmental activist, shared her views on the role of children and youth in protecting the environment in this month’s Youth Flash. Miku works with Plant-for-the-Planet, a children and youth Initiative that works to plant trees and aims to raise awareness among children and adults about issues of climate change and global justice. The organization holds workshops where children and youth learn to serve their communities as Climate Justice Ambassadors.
Question: Please tell us about your work in environmental protection and what inspired you to be active in this field.
Miku Higashi: Plant-for-the-Planet Ambassadors like me want to plant 1 trillion trees worldwide and motivate a million children and young people to become Climate Justice Ambassadors. I participated in a Plant-for-the-Planet Ambassador Training programme when I was nine years old and it all started from there. At first, I did not know anything about the climate crisis. However, throughout the training, I was shocked to learn that the earth is in a critical state and if we do not act now to protect it, it will be too late. So I decided to start acting.
Question: Can you share some of your accomplishments from your work, including in Zambia?
Miku Higashi: I started the Plant-for-the-Planet Ambassador Training programme in Zambia in 2016, and there are currently about 200 Climate Justice Ambassadors in the country. I also build tree nurseries in my backyard, plant trees in various places, and disseminate messages on climate justice whenever there is an opportunity (such as at online monthly meetings with friends from different countries to discuss environmental action plans, teaching street children about climate change and giving a speech in front of the President of Zambia). I also started a recycling project with my neighbours in Zambia; made visits to politicians and ministers in both Japan and Zambia to introduce Plant-for-the-Planet’s activities and take photos for our “Stop talking. Start planting” campaign; and motivated several schools in Zambia to establish environmental clubs. At a high-level event on environmental protection in Zambia, I was invited as a surprise guest to appeal for environmental protection and this prompted environmental leaders in the country to pledge to plant more than 160,000 trees.
Question: Why is environmental protection an important issue for this generation of children and youth?
Miku Higashi: The state of the environment has direct implications for our future. It is our responsibility to protect this future. We must take actions now; otherwise it will be too late. When I see children who are younger than me working hard towards our future, I feel encouraged and want to support them. I believe that children’s voices have an instinctively strong power to motivate others, including adults, to take action. In fact, Plant-for-the-Planet’s idea to raise awareness among children and adults has spread throughout the world in a very short time. This initiative plants trees in almost 200 countries, and has trained ambassadors in 58 of them over the past 10 years.
Question: Can you tell us more about the slogan “Stop talking. Start planting?” How do you think this can encourage young people to begin their own efforts for environmental protection?
Miku Higashi: “Stop talking. Start planting” is Plant-for-the-Planet’s campaign slogan that has been disseminated primarily through posters. In the posters, children and youth take pictures with prominent community members with our hands covering their mouths to spread the message that discussing environmental issues alone is not going to make any difference and instead, we must start acting now or it will be too late. I believe that seeing those posters with prominent members would stimulate tangible actions. In fact, my friends shared some of their responses after seeing the posters, including an eight year old boy named Ryua Yamamoto, who said that “[w]hen I first saw the poster, I was not sure what the slogan meant. But I soon realized that it conveyed a message that talking alone would not change the world. We need[ed] to act. After listening to Miku’s presentation, I was inspired that I wanted to become a figure who could protect our planet.” Another friend, Yui Shimizu, a 12 year old girl, shared that “[a]fter seeing the posters and Miku’s presentation, I [realized that] the animals are suffering so much. I thought [that there was a need for us] to plant many trees to help them.” Another young person, Akari Higashinaka, a 15 year old girl, said that “[t]he poster clearly caught my attention. When I saw the slogan ‘stop talking’, I grasped what it was all about. I want[ed] to know more about Plant-for-the-Planet. I want[ed] to support it. I wanted to share this with my friends, so I made a presentation in my class about what activity Miku was doing.”
Question: How can children and youth get involved in their communities? What are some of the resources and tools that they can use to get started?
Miku Higashi: I would recommend that children and youth contact local environmental groups to find friends who are also interested in environmental issues. Plant-for-the-Planet not only plants trees but also gives presentations in many places. Children and youth who would like to join the initiative can contact the Plant-for-the-Planet office for more details.
About Miku Higashi: Miku Higashi was born in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan. She is 12 years old and currently lives in Zambia. Miku trained as a Plant-for-the-Planet (@PftP_int) Climate Justice Ambassador when she was nine years old and has lived in six countries (Ethiopia, Japan, Thailand, Australia, US and Zambia) due to the nature of her father’s job. She enjoys camping with her family and friends during holidays and planting trees at campsites. She likes swimming, reading, playing the ukulele and making handicrafts. Her dream is to become an animal and nature photographer. Watch Miku share her story here.
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