Conservation through Education: EarthEcho International’s mobilization of young environmental leaders

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Historically, the environmental movement has underinvested in education. “There has been investment in tactical environmental solutions, but not in the grand strategy of building a society that cares,” explains Philippe Cousteau Jr., one of the co-founders of EarthEcho International. 

“EarthEcho aims to fill that gap and be part of the growing group of voices advocating for education.”

Growing up, Cousteau was influenced by his grandfather, renowned ocean explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau. He recalls that his grandfather liked to say, “Before we talk about conservation, we have to talk about education.” When beginning his career, Cousteau kept coming back to his grandfather’s aphorism—he knew that creating a society that cared about the environment started with educating youth. 

EarthEcho International co-founder Philippe Cousteau Jr. and his wife, journalist Ashlan Cousteau, work with students at an EarthEcho event. Photo Courtesy of EarthEcho International.

To champion the cause of engaging diverse youth in ocean conservation, Cousteau co-founded EarthEcho International in 2005 alongside his sister, Alexandra, and mother, Jan. The organization provides STEM education to youth through afterschool programs with partner institutions, facilitates community water monitoring, and engages the next generation of environmental leaders.

Cousteau takes pride in watching young people develop skills and build confidence over the course of their involvement in EarthEcho’s Youth Leadership Council. He notes that youths are capable of making tremendous positive change when provided with “opportunity, hope, and respect.”

Members of EarthEcho International’s Youth Leadership Council with EarthEcho staff. Photo courtesy of EarthEcho International.

Through EarthEcho, Cousteau hopes to provide students with opportunities and role models. He defines success as enabling youth to empower other youth—EarthEcho aspires to build a community, equip young people with the necessary tools, and then step back so they can shine. The organization has reached tens of thousands of young people globally, and many of them have said their involvement with EarthEcho has changed their life trajectory and inspired their career choices. 

One component of EarthEcho’s amplification of youth-led environmentalism is its annual Youth Leadership Summit. Typically, the summit brings a group of young people together in the nation’s capital. However, the COVID-19 pandemic required the summit to take place virtually in 2020—and EarthEcho was amazed to see the response. More than 400 young people from over 50 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Australia, and Brazil, attended the virtual forum. Cousteau thinks the demand for such a program stems from the high levels of climate anxiety that young people experience in the face of coinciding environmental crises

“The greatest cure for this anxiety is building a community of positive action,” he says.

The second virtual Youth Leadership Summit was held this past August. It brought together almost 300 young changemakers from 28 countries around the shared purpose of protecting the ocean and the planet. In total, the summit provided 20 sessions and over 1,000 hours of engagement. As part of its partnership with EarthEcho, AltaSea provided a webinar at the summit designed to encourage and facilitate entrepreneurship in the blue economy. The session featured a panelist of four young blue economy entrepreneurs discussing their pathways to success in the blue economy and culminated with the opportunity for youth in attendance to present ideas, business models, and products to the panelists. 

The summit was the latest of EarthEcho’s events and resources designed to give youth a pathway to take action for the planet. With its mission of inspiring young people worldwide to actively pursue a sustainable future, EarthEcho is both carrying on the legacy of the Cousteau forefathers and allowing the Cousteau’s new guard to carve out their own niche within the conservation world.

In recognition of EarthEcho International’s work educating future generations of conservationists, AltaSea honored Philippe Cousteau with the NextGen Award at its Blue Hour: Ocean of Inclusion event on October 9th. In his acceptance speech, he reminded attendees that creating a broad constituency of citizen environmentalists is crucial to achieving true sustainability. And, he said, building that constituency starts with engaging the younger generations.

“Youth challenge convention,” he said, “They challenge the older generations to do better.”

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