Why we need young people to fight for the climate

Jessica Lone Summers

If you underestimate the young activists of the world, you ignore a whole world of possible good

In 2019, more than 1.4 million young people around the globe took part in the School Strikes for Climate Action protests that were largely prompted by 17-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. The inspirational young Swede, while a media favourite, is far from the first or last young person to fight for a better environmental future—and with European summers set to increase by 4.7°C in 2050 (since 2000) it’s no wonder.

With the rise of social media in recent years, young people around the globe have easy access to startling information about how we’re currently failing to look after the Earth. Websites such as YouTube provide accessible coverage on ecological matters that quickly garner millions of views, and links to new scientific information are easily shared between peers. But, it’s not just online research that exposes the truth, and it’s not a distant threat either. Climate change is happening around us as we speak; our oceans are 30 per cent more acidic due to carbon pollution, an increase of droughts and heatwaves means a loss of crop production and one and a half acres of forest is cut down every second.

Of course, just because young people are now readily armed with statistics such as these doesn’t mean all adults will eagerly listen to them. Many write off young activists simply due to their age, and others still aren’t willing to see the environmental challenges we face, but that doesn’t mean a difference can’t be made.

In fact, there are some advantages to being a young activist. A study on participants aged 16-24 in the UN climate negotiations revealed that adults perceived younger activists as being more trustworthy due to the lack of financial incentives to be there. Young activists not only aren’t smudged by agendas being forced on them, they also have an untainted view of what’s going on and, being free from politics, they often say what adults aren’t willing to..

So, it seems achieving a carbon neutral world in the future might depend on young determined voices inspiring experienced adults who can make a difference. Preferably, young people wouldn’t worry about the environment at all, but our civilisation forced them into the conversation when their futures were put at stake, so their voices should be included in the solution. 

 

Ugandan climate justice activist, Vanessa Nakate weighs in

What first spiked your interest in the environment?

In 2018, I wanted to do something to bring change for people in my community. I carried out research to understand the problems affecting them and found that climate change was the greatest threat. When I realised many people in the rural areas faced devastating impacts such as landslides, floods and droughts, I decided to stand up. Seeing climate change threaten the availability of food and water in my country was a wake-up call.

 

What do you think older activists can learn from younger activists?

We are focused and very clear with our demands. We are not afraid of holding governments and corporations accountable for the climate crisis because the science is clear. We will not give up because our future is at stake. Older activists need to demand for climate action like their lives depend on it too, because they do.

 

How can activism enact change?

Farmers in Ontario stood up against a proposed mega quarry in their land. They held festivals to draw attention, they spoke up against corporate mining which threatened their groundwater and soil, they mobilised many people to stop it and in 2012, Highland Company withdrew their plans.

 

What environmental changes do you hope to see in your lifetime?

I hope to see the end of the fossil fuel industry, we need renewable energy. We need sustainability in every sector through green building and clean transportation. I hope to see recovery of our ecosystems through planting more trees, having urban forests and protecting wildlife. Our existence depends on that of our ecosystems. I hope to see more resilience built in the most affected communities.

 

How can other young people become activists too?

There are many climate movements all over the world and most have social media accounts. Find a local group that you can work with to demand climate action. When people are united, they cannot be defeated. Earth is our home to protect. Everyone is needed.

Follow Vanessa on Twitter at @vanessa_vash

Read more: Could you live a carbon-neutral life?

Read more: Everything you need to know about the Great Barrier Reef


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