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Youth Environmental Corps

Published on March 5, 2020 under Our Work

Turning the Tides is working towards a global youth environmental corps, under the United Nations, guided by native people. This idea is supported by scientists, youth and musicians in nine countries and will be presented to the UN in spring, 2020.

Youth around the world are marching for a livable future – frustrated that these efforts are not making more of an impact on corporate and political decision makers. A youth corps does not in any way reduce the need for drastically lowered emissions, but offers an additional – and powerful – path to change by sequestering carbon through greening deserts, planting grasses, trees and marine plants around the world. 

Scientists and activists on every continent have been working to heal eco-systems and bury carbon. Many of these projects, though hugely successful, are small and not well known, and require volunteers to pay to work for them. Turning the Tides believes the world needs an eco-corps that celebrates and promulgates these efforts and provides volunteers with food, shelter and a monthly stipend so these important projects can grow and multiply. 

An eco-corps also provides a place to work with native peoples to discover world views that got us into this mess. Native peoples who have lived successfully on the earth for thousands of years, have knowledge not included in Western curricula, that is vital to humanity’s well being and survival.


Millions of young people around the world are on the streets marching for a livable future and open to ways of making that happen. 

Scientists and agriculturists on every continent are regenerating forests, soils, wetlands, deserts, and other natural systems. With a massive dose of young peoples’ energy and idealism, this work has the potential to remove ALL excess carbon from the atmosphere in the next few years.

Indigenous peoples everywhere are willing to share knowledge and practices learned over thousands of years that teach how to listen to and work with the intelligence of the natural world in order to help restore essential life-giving systems. 

It is time for a Global Eco-Corps that works with native peoples and scientists to regenerate vital systems everywhere — a corps on a perpetual learning curve, open to alternatives and multiple world views.

We think young people everywhere are ready to learn and to lead. 

We believe the United Nations to be the best organization to build a framework for this new effort that includes all countries, reflects the wisdom of native peoples, and inspires sustainability everywhere.

Problems and Solutions 

Humans have destroyed half of the earth’s forests, grasslands, and wetlands, and wiped out one- third of the world’s topsoil. (1) Rivers, lakes, and oceans contain millions of tons of toxic chemicals, wastes, and plastics.(2) Coral reefs are dying and up to 75% of the world’s insects have disappeared. (3) An estimated 200 species of plants, insects, birds, and mammals become extinct every day. (4) Scientists predict the death of the ocean — our major source of oxygen — by 2048,(5) and the end of topsoil by 2065. (6)

Our planet is dying. 

Arguing about global warming has been likened to standing around a man dying of flesh-eating bacteria, debating whether he has a fever. (7)

Employing youth and others to help restore and regenerate our vital systems — green deserts, forests, soils, grasses, and marine plants — could add huge carbon sinks and reverse planetary crises, including global warming. One trillion trees planted on 4.2 billion acres in designated areas in Russia, China, Australia, and the US would absorb two thirds of all emissions pumped into the atmosphere by humans. (8) A young peoples’ corps could greatly facilitate this effort. 

Prairie grasses have denser root systems and more vegetative mass than trees, can store more carbon underground than trees above ground and are not as impacted by fire. Areas where these grasses once thrived could be replanted by youth who live there. (9)

Agriculture uses one-third of the world’s arable land. Soil is four times the size of Earth’s vegetative mass and its largest terrestrial pool of carbon. (10) Agricultural crops absorb carbon from the atmosphere to build stems, leaves, and roots. If left unplowed, plants can store carbon deep in the earth for hundreds of years. 

If no-plow agriculture is practiced and more complex root growth encouraged, the natural systems within that soil could offset CO2 emissions, rebuilding topsoil in the process. (11) These efforts are now underway on every continent — but they’re too small, not well known, and not growing fast enough. A youth corps could change this. 

Marine plants — sea grass, seaweed, algae — store up to 40 times more carbon than all land- based forests. (12) Volunteers in various countries are working to restore these systems, bringing back plants to clean the water, providing nurseries for fish, and storing massive amounts of carbon. We’re pretty sure they would appreciate help. 

Deserts occupy one-third of the world’s land mass. People on every continent are using a variety of techniques to green these deserts — turning them into crops and forests. Transformation of the world’s deserts holds great potential as massive carbon sinks. Young people living on and near deserts, including those in refugee camps, could be recruited to help turn sand into food-producing soil. 

One of the fastest CO2 to biomass conversion tools available is hemp – which absorbs more CO2 per acre than any forest or commercial crop. It can be grown on nutrient poor soils with small amounts of water and no fertilizer. It can also replace petroleum based plastics with plastic that is biodegradable and nontoxic and eliminate the need to clear cut forests for paper pulp. One acre of hemp produces as much as 4.1 acres of trees and can be harvested two or three times a year. Youth planting hemp across the world would not only provide a gigantic carbon sink, but could replace some of the world’s most polluting technologies.(13)

Masses of young people could greatly enlarge all these efforts and more. Revitalizing the earth’s systems, together with continued growth of wind, hydrogen, and solar technologies, holds the potential of a complete reversal of global warming and encourages shared understanding of interconnectedness and cooperation among everyone. They could also be a powerful voice in ridding the ocean of plastics and chemicals and helping to stop the ongoing destruction of natural systems. 

This great and unprecedented planetary crisis provides an opportunity for countries and people to work together across political, racial, religious, and cultural divides to save ourselves. 

Importance of Indigenous Thought 

For thousands of years, native peoples have connected with the natural world through their hearts and a learned awareness. They know how to listen to and work with plants, animals, soil, and water. Communicating with nature is their birthright. 

This birthright also belongs to the rest of us. We’ve just forgotten. 

The “Age of Information” relies on knowledge from books and the “scientific method,” resulting in a worldview of separate entities without consciousness or intelligence that can be endlessly manipulated — an unfeeling technology that can poison the earth and lead to extinction. 

We are fortunate that knowledge of indigenous practices, crucial to planetary health and human survival, is still alive, and that native peoples are willing to teach. Indigenous and other ways of knowing focus on relationship. They know the natural world as intelligent, interrelated, conscious, and sacred. 

The bridge between indigenous and Western thought is quantum physics and the wisdom of the heart. Native peoples focus on awareness on what is above, below, and around them. This awareness has led to an understanding of a world recently discovered by quantum physicists. 

David Bohm, one of the world’s original quantum scientists, found some of scientists’ most difficult-to-understand concepts to be important elements of an indigenous worldview, even embedded in their languages. Quantum physicists know, for instance, that “time” and “space” are the same thing. They have discovered that in some native languages, “time and “space” are the same word. (14)

Native thought is holistic — everything is viewed as part of a big picture. (15) In contrast, Western science focuses more on separate and increasingly small parts of that picture. Some native people have observed that “Western scientists know more and more about less and less.” An understanding of this world through the eyes of native people holds the potential for profound change and is vital to our ability to work with natural systems.

Native peoples view the heart as one of the most important sources of wisdom. They sometimes described encroaching Europeans as “people without hearts.” Scientists have discovered that 85 percent of communication between human hearts and brains moves from the heart to the brain. The wisdom of the heart is physically wired to guide information in the brain. (16)Without this guidance, humans are like computers — working without an operator. 

Scientists have discovered that the heart sends its intelligence — via energetic signals — to the brain, which converts those signals into language. Their students learn, through experience, that just because something doesn’t have a mouth doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a voice. ( 16)There are easy practices to access heart wisdom that can lay a groundwork for Western-educated young people to begin to learn native ways of relating to plants, animals, water, soil and other natural systems. 

The health and well-being of the world that surrounds us is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of humans. It is possible to expand our current information base to include those of peoples who demonstrate a deep knowledge of nature and have lived successfully within it for millennia. 

To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.  Wendell Berry


  1. – May, 2019
  2. UN Food and Agriculture Organization
  3. National Geographic, Feb. 2019
  4. UN Environmental Program
  5. Science Magazine, 2006
  6. UN Food and Agriculture Organization
  7. Climate – A New Story by Charles Eisenstein
  8. Science Journal – July 5, 2019
  9. Science for Environmental Policy Briefing 6/2016
  10. Science for Environmental Policy Briefing 6/2016
  11. Successful Farming, 12/22/2017
  12. Blue Carbon Initiative
  13. Ellen Brown, Truth Dig 7/24/2019\
  14. Blackfoot Physics by David Peat, p. 238
  15. Jagged World Views Colliding – Dr. LeRoy Littlebear
  16. Heart/Math Institute


Dr. Mustafa El Hawi – retired professor of urban environmental sustainability, Gaza.

Shonali Chenzira – environmental author, activist, India

Dixie Belcher – peace and environmental activist, Alaska