This week, I spoke at “Career Day” at a large, urban West LA high school. The listing for my occupation on the school’s schedule was “environmental lawyer” which is accurate, but meaningless to most high school kids.
The kids were pretty much what I remembered from my public high school in Los Angeles: some slept, many were bored and indifferent, and a few were active and engaged. I tried to explain what an environmental lawyer / litigator does and gave them some hypotheticals that I hoped would spark some discussion about the jobs vs. environmental protection issue that is often thrown our way. I started big and fuzzy – polar bears – and then went small and fishy – the Delta smelt. The smaller and less cute we got, the fewer kids thought it was worth protecting the critter. The concept of an animal as an indicator species for environmental degradation was a tough one for them to weigh against the everyday reality of job losses or a reduction in supplies of drinking water.
I wasn’t discouraged by this. The smart and active kids who took me on gave me hope that, as their education continues, they will come to understand the value, for humans as well as critters, of environmental protection. In fact, one of the “let the smelt die” advocates came up after my talk and asked about internships at NRDC. I shamelessly promoted law school to those who had any flicker of interest, in the hope that, when their kids are in high school, they can have careers as environmental lawyers and make us proud.