As Earth Hour 2019 approaches, James Gitau, WWF Governance Practice Intern, and Delfin Ganapin, WWF Governance Practice Lead, celebrate the passion and energy young people bring to solving global challenges and call on today’s leaders to listen and help them lead.
James, 25, Nairobi
Leave no one behind
Climate change is having a deadly impact on my country. In Kenya and other parts of Africa, innocent people are dying from famine, poverty and drought.
According to the FAO, 820 million people are suffering chronic undernourishment, and last week, World Water Day reminded us that billions lack safe water while our rivers and oceans are plagued by plastic pollution, and nature loss is reaching unprecedented levels.
Whoever we are and wherever we live, food, water and shelter are our human right. And to those, I would add a stable climate and a healthy, living planet. We must do more to tackle the crises we face and leave no one behind.
A two-way street
As a young person, I try to listen deeply to the wisdom of my elders. The late Professor Wangari Maathai — philanthropist, environmental activist, Nobel Peace prize-winner and green belt movement founder — is a mentor who continues to inspire me. Her passion, struggle and perseverance for Kenyan forests mean we still enjoy the natural beauty and benefits of the Mau Complex and the Karura forest today.
And now perhaps it’s time that governments and conservation organisations around the world lent young people an ear and gave us a real chance to contribute. We’ve got energy, ideas and ambition — and we’re eager to create a better future.
Good leadership is born not simply of vision and decision-making but of two-way relationships based on listening and showing respect, and of give and take, both amongst peers and across generations, between elders and youngers.
Speaking truth to power
In Nairobi, I work in my own community and with the County Government to increase understanding about the importance of reforestation and saving nature. But I’m humbled and inspired by so many other young people around the world who are passionate about change.
In August 2018, the now world-famous 16 year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, began a school strike protesting about climate change outside the Swedish parliament. By Christmas, she’d addressed the UN Climate Change Conference, and in January this year, she spoke in Davos, warning world leaders ‘our house is on fire’. And last week alone, at least 1.6 million people in 125 countries took part in similar #FridaysForFuture climate strikes.
Greta has shown us all how to speak truth to power. And this year, WWF’s Earth Hour — the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment — will once again give millions of people the opportunity to do the same.
Time to be heard
Please join us on March 30th and #Connect2Earth. Let’s speak up for nature and spark never-before-had conversations about the need to protect life on Earth.
Let’s put pressure on our governments to tackle climate change, reverse nature loss, and end poverty and hunger — we need a New Deal for Nature and People.
And let’s make sure they recognise what young people have to offer and include us in national and international policymaking — their decisions today will affect our future tomorrow.
It’s time our elders listened to us as deeply as we listen to them. And it’s time they mentored, taught and guided us so that one day soon we can with confidence take over the baton of leadership.
Delfin, 64, Singapore
Doing what’s right
I know from my own childhood that we learn the values of respect and inclusiveness very early on. And while I’m not a very religious person, I thank my mother for teaching me two crucial life lessons: that we should do what’s right, even if no one in authority is watching or compelling us to act in a certain way; and that we’re all brothers and sisters who should care for one another and all of creation.
This sense of conviction has stayed with me and motivated my work for social and environmental justice. It’s why I also believe that unless we engage young people, and prepare future leaders, we will not deliver sustainable development.
And it’s why in the work I lead with WWF on governance, we see youth leadership and action as integral to stronger stewardship of our environment and our communities, now and in the future.
Playing the long game
None of us can deliver sustainability alone in the span of a single career, or even a lifetime. We need others, especially younger generations, to work with us. We need children and youth from all walks of life to engage in building sustainable societies. As elders, we can nurture their passion and help them achieve their vision.
Last year, WWF and World Scouting joined forces to mobilise young people for a healthy planet, recognising young people as agents of change creating a more sustainable world. This year again, Scouts worldwide will add their voice to Earth Hour to create even greater impact, helping hundreds of millions of people across the planet understand the value of nature.
To be a hero
At school, history often meant reading about the lives of heroes. What struck me most was how many weren’t trying to be heroic but rather were driven by a feeling that something just had to be done.
I’m immensely encouraged by the global youth movements of today and the young heroes who are marching, demonstrating and demanding action, for the climate, for women’s rights, for democracy — because it must be done.
Earth Hour is just one moment in time but it doesn’t have to begin and end there. We can keep a heroic spirit alive within us all the time — recognising our place in the bigger picture, taking responsibility in our daily lives, advocating for change.
Follow your passion
I salute today’s youth who are engaging in their schools, influencing their families and communities, networking with one another and raising awareness, and challenging us all to create just and sustainable societies.
My father was a forester, and I knew from an early age it was what I wanted to be as well. Although it wasn’t a glamorous job and my mother cried when I announced my decision, I followed my dream.
You have to find and follow your passion, and use it to take on a challenge with purpose. This Earth Hour, set your passion alight and take it with you always, whatever you choose to do.