We can’t save the planet without involving youth
by Safia Southey, Communications Intern, Global Environment Facility
As many of us remember from high school English, two roads diverged in a yellow wood, with a traveler caught at the crossroads. The younger generation is also at a crossroads, but it’s a little more complicated. There aren’t just two roads: there are many roads that can be taken from a young age in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle and have a positive impact on planet Earth.
Some roads have blind corners; however, some have sharp turns, and others have vague murky trails labeled ‘corporate social responsibility’ or ‘alternative lifestyles’. The only thing that’s simple is that unless we decide to take responsibility for our environment, soon enough there isn’t going to be a wood or a road at all.
There are currently 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever. The United Nations designated August 12 the International Youth Day to raise awareness to the issues affecting our children, but we also have a role in educating them on the importance of learning that our planet is in crisis, and what can be done to protect our Global Commons.
The youth of today are in the prime position to make a difference. It’s clear that the way to change policy and attract attention in this age of fast paced Twitter feeds and click-bait is to adapt, by creating immersive videos, posts that amass those “likes”, and content than can generally hold young people’s attention for long enough.
National Geographic recently shared a video of a starving polar bear seemingly suffering from the effects of climate change, and received over 2.5 billion views. While views don’t necessarily amount to action, bringing attention to the impacts of environmental decay can spark the youth to get passionately involved.
Graphic images of marine plastics choking the ocean’s ecosystem, including a recent entire issue of Nat Geo magazine, have inspired millions of young people to look for new solutions, spurring innovative approaches such as boats that clean up the oceans and new ways to recycle plastics before they violently contaminate the waters.
Paying attention to the environment and the issues that plague it is crucial to creating a safe and viable future — especially when we bear the responsibility for many of those issues in the first place.
Why get involved?
The decisions being made regarding the environment do not lie on the Internet, but rather occur with political and business leaders, and in conference rooms at international gatherings across the globe. While international political processes may not be the most attention-grabbing, there are ways to bring these discussions to a larger audience.
At the recent Global Environment Facility (GEF) Assembly in Da Nang, Viet Nam, country representatives welcomed $4.1 billion in new funds to invest in the global environment over the next four years. In Da Nang, the GEF teamed up with Connect4Climate, a youth-focused online awareness raising initiative of the World Bank, to bring expertise out of conference rooms and onto the Internet.
The resulting series of interviews brought 30+ leading voices on the environment, including thought leaders, heads of businesses, and civil society representatives to an audience of thousands of online viewers, who could pose their questions to experts in real time.
Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment, took a question from a young student aspiring to work in international development on what youth can do to protect the global commons and help stop plastic pollution.
With the young generation getting involved in simple ways like writing to local government officials, joining environmental activist organizations, and applying sustainable practices in one’s own consumption practices, it’s not too late to shift the paradigm and impact the world in positive ways.
With the advent of new technologies, young people now possess the ability to engage their peers in immersive environments never before available; sharing articles, videos and events at breakneck speed to an ever-broadening base.
Environmental activism has been growing exponentially, as exemplified by the 2017 People’s Climate March where concerned citizens and activists rallied in over 300 locations around the globe (200,000 in DC alone). Similar acts of advocacy have made substantial difference, awakening policy makers to critically acute environmental issues.
Youth have a role in protecting the Global Commons
The GEF’s Global Commons campaign illustrates just why the youth need to get involved now. At this critical moment for the endurance of the multiplicity of life on earth and the structures necessary for humanity’s continued existence, it is necessary to sustain the Global Commons through protecting the diversity of life, developing innovative solutions that reflect the connectivity of all systems, and establishing widespread engagement across all communities.
As Mary Robinson, founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation (which aims to be a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to protect the victims of climate change who are usually forgotten — the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized across the world), passionately expressed, “we are custodians of our planet, a global commons that, by 2050, will be home to some 9 billion people. It is our duty to live in such a way that the precious, life sustaining environment which keeps us is passed to future generations in at least as healthy a state as we received it from those before us.”
All of us, the youth in particular need to not only be aware, but also be active. Sharing and liking tweets online can help teach people about the plights that our planet endures, but it’s necessary to get involved directly. Opportunities abound at a local or community level — and if they don’t, then be a part of fixing that. This place is our home. It’s time we stand up for Mother Nature. It’s time we make a change.
All portraits by Safia Southey.