Fayette County will celebrate Earth Day on April 26, but two young Fayetteville residents have taken the motto “Every day is Earth Day” to heart.
Carter and Olivia Ries, 13 and 11 years old, respectively, founded a nonprofit environmental education group called One More Generation when they were still in elementary school – and the work they’ve done since then shows that the “OMG” is apt.
After learning about endangered cheetahs in Africa, they wanted to do more to raise awareness about imperiled animals everywhere. With the support of their parents, Jim and Lauren, they formed OMG in 2009.
When the 2010 oil spill harmed thousands of animals in the Gulf of Mexico, they collected supplies from local schools and churches and went to Louisiana to help with the rescue and cleanup of sea turtles and birds. But they learned that oil wasn’t the only threat to marine life – plastic pollution was big danger too.
So OMG launched the Plastic Awareness Coalition, including a school curriculum that teaches students to use less plastic to begin with, recycle what they use, and to “pre-cycle” by avoiding plastics that often aren’t actually recycled even if they’re collected (numbers 3, 6 and 7).
The coalition already has more than 70 local, national and international member groups. But Carter and Olivia are still just getting started.
Both attended local Montessori schools and are now homeschooled. Their schedule lets them travel and make presentations about environmental awareness to schools and other civic groups.
While visiting South Africa, Carter and Olivia got a firsthand look at the growing crisis of rhino poaching. The animals are being killed at an ever-growing rate – more than 1,000 in 2013 alone – and the future of both the white and black rhino species is in grave danger. Upon finding the carcass of a pregnant rhino killed for her horn, the kids led a prayer asking, “Please help us stop this.”
Through OMG, Carter and Olivia are reaching out to children in South Africa, where much of the poaching occurs, and in China and Vietnam, where powdered rhino horn is still (erroneously) considered magic medicine. A film about their visit and the larger rhino protection project is at www.itsyourplanet.org.
But that’s still not all.
Carter and Olivia next want to broaden awareness about the use of palm oil in a wide range of products, the production of which results in rainforest destruction in Indonesia and endangers the world’s last remaining orangutans.
In 2013 OMG received the Prestigious Partner of the Year Award by the Fulton (County) Education Foundation. Carter and Olivia were recently honored by the Fayette County Commission, and are partnering with singer Jack Johnson to do more national outreach.
They’re already planning their own futures: Olivia wants to become a veterinarian and establish “the world’s largest animal sanctuary,” while Carter plans to be both a photographer and an inventor for environment-related programs.
The Rieses believe that each generation is responsible for the well-being of the next. They’re showing how working locally can make a difference globally, on Earth Day and every day.
And that, like the tip of a rhino’s horn, is the point.
Jill Howard Church has lived in Fayette County since 1994. Reach her a firstname.lastname@example.org