Help Obama spread environmental literacy. Vote today!

What does it mean to be an environmentalist today? The day after Earth Day I was interviewed by a magazine reporter who asked what I thought was a really good question.

We launched TreePeople shortly after the first Earth Day, and in the decades since I've seen four major cycles of eco-passion come and go. In each I heard people say with complete confidence that we'd made a change in the way Americans think about our relationship to the earth.

These people were sure this environmental change was here to stay. In each case the sentiment was overtaken by economic concerns, or wars, or political events.

I've never liked the term "environmentalist," even though I am obviously considered one, because it's a word that can mean almost anything you want it to mean.

Anyone can be an environmentalist - all you have to do is care. In each cycle of earth-friendliness I've seen emotional awareness go up. But although caring is good, it's just a first step.Without environmental literacy, it's too easy for people to be manipulated by those who would use the movement for their own purposes.

If I was asked to define the term as it should be, I'd say an environmentalist is a person who has at least a basic understanding of how local and global ecosystems work and inter-relate, who understands the impacts that human activity can have on the health of those ecosystems, and who, using this literacy, acts on that knowledge. When we look at the magnitude of environmental challenges effecting our future, it is clear that one our highest priorities MUST be increasing environmental literacy throughout the population, and especially in emerging leaders. That may seem like a daunting task. But here's some good news.

In southern Los Angeles, in a community called Lawndale, stands the Environmental Charter High School, whose core mission is environmental literacy, from composting to public speaking to rainwater harvesting. The student body is 68% Latino, 20% African-American, and 78% low income, few from parents with a college education. In a state with the public school average college-readiness of graduates is 32%, Environmental Charter High School graduates 97% of its students ready for college.

This school was founded by Alison Suffet-Diaz, who not many years ago was a member of the TreePeople staff, so we consider ourselves proud parents. But more importantly the ECHS is one of six high schools up for a Commencement Challenge award from the White House, and is the only one in the running that offers a green curriculum. Here's a charming and short introduction to the school:

President Barack Obama personally delivering this year's commencement address at the charter school that wins. This is a huge opportunity: a Presidential spotlight will illuminate the importance of environmental literacy to a vast audience.

This is a moment where you can make a big difference...your vote is needed to TODAY to help President Obama choose to come to Los Angeles to honor the school and this vital issue.

Take a moment and vote here! (Or at www.whitehouse.gov/commencement.) Go to the page for the ECHS  to vote for the school, and for environmental literacy.

The voting closes on Thursday, April 29, and the winner will be announced next week. Thank you!