How to be a Hummingbird Environmentalist

by Andrea Koehle Jones

IMG_3478-e1351346304680-224x300More than ever I am feeling overwhelmed thinking about all the problems in the world. Every day we are seeing new and undeniable climate events and it can be hard to see what one person or family can really do to help.

I first heard the hummingbird fable from Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai. It’s a beautiful story about a massive forest fire and the courageous efforts of a tiny hummingbird to help.

All the animals in the forest watched a huge forest fire getting bigger and bigger. They felt so overwhelmed and powerless, except for a little hummingbird. It said, “I’m going to do something about the fire.”

The little hummingbird flew to the closest stream, scooped-up a drop of water and put it on the huge fire. Then she went back to the stream and did it again. She kept going back, again and again and again. All the other animals watched, some tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, “Don’t bother, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop of water, you can’t put out this fire.”

And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the hummingbird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then an elephant shouted out to the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?” And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, “I am doing the best I can.”

The collective impact of one small thing

It’s not hard to be a hummingbird environmentalist. This week for example I thought, “What’s one thing I can I do differently?” I decided to take the kids to the store but instead of driving, as we usually do, we bicycled. At first I didn’t feel like it, but we ended up having a really great time.

Forty percent of all trips are made within two miles of home. If individuals and families choose to bike or walk to work, or to make fewer shopping trips each week, they could really help the planet (and their wallet).


Become a Hummingbird Environmentalist

Anyone can be a Hummingbird Environmentalist. It is about having an open heart, thinking beyond yourself, and being willing to try something new – even fun – once in a while. We can all do one thing better. Here are three ideas that I hope get you inspired.

  1.  Incorporate public transit into your next family outing – if your kids are like mine, they will love the chance to take the bus or train
  2. Make a hummingbird craft with your kids – it’s a great way to share the hummingbird fable and show them that anyone, no-matter how small, can help make the world a better place.
  3. Plant a tree with your child or make a donation to a children’s environmental education charity that gives kids trees like Canada’s ChariTree Foundation. If children are going to make a lifelong commitment to protect the environment for themselves and future generations, they first need time to explore the wonders of nature. One of the best ways to teach environmental education is to give kids a tree of their own to plant. It’s about learning to care for something, self-sufficiency, reforestation, trees as future food sources and so more than anything, its about empowering children and showing how they can help make the world a better place.

Andrea Koehle Jones is the Executive Director of The ChariTREE Foundation, the author of the children’s book The Wish Trees, and a Hummingbird Environmentalist.

Photos by Andrea Koehle Jones