The Climate Change Generation

Kshitij Bansal

In this feature, I shall highlight the environmental challenges, opportunities and  share  some solutions to climate change from the view of Generation Y.  A holistic approach is needed, one where all generations come together. As such, I provide strategies to help government bodies and NGOs on how to effectively engage the climate change generation.

The Climate Change Generation

Generation Y and Climate Change

As young professionals  have a distinctly unique stake in the fight against climate change. Their decisions  and  actions  over  the  next  few  years  will shape the world we live in for the rest of our lives, not to  mention  that  of  our  children  and  our  children’s children. Sustainable  development has become a key element  in  the  programmes  of  youth  organizations throughout the world. The mobilization and support of young  people will be  critical to achieving  the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring environmental sustainability.

Our Challenge Is to Solve Climate Change

Half of the world’s population is under 20 years old. Many of these young people will be faced with the growing challenge of global conflicts induced by the scarce resources of fertile land, drinkable water, fossil fuel and peaceful space. Young people’s consumption patterns are decisive for tomorrow’s world.

However, as they start their adult lifestyle as first-time consumers they are likely to fix their lifelong patterns of consumption. As new, often debt-ridden, consumers they may also embrace the buy-now-pay-later “free lunch” consumer culture. Families and peers can have a key influence on both reinforcing and  changing  youth  behaviour.  Young adulthood  is  a  period  when  the  effects  of  the commercialization of childhood are being seen and lifelong consumption habits are being fixed.

Support the Politics of Sustainable Development

In the more industrially developed countries there seems to be little political support for developing the socially   and  environmentally  responsible  new  leadership  that  will  be  required  for  low  impact economies  and  societies.  Barack  Obama  has  recognised  this  when  he  proposed  a  Climate  Change Education Bill.

Political support for the next generation of leadership in sustainable development has been  championed  by  a  growing  range  of  organisations  –  such  as  the  International  Institute  for Sustainable Development in Canada, Forum for the Future with its scholarship programme in the UK, the British Council with their Climate Advocates  programme across Europe and the Commonwealth Secretariat with its Environmentally Sustainable Development programme.

Climate Change and Melting Ice Caps

In the less industrially developed countries traditional cultures inevitably hold more decision-making power in the elders. The challenge here is both to encourage the educated to support and work in their local communities, rather than migrate to more privileged and less threatened parts of the globe.

Those that are educated specialists, such as doctors, engineers or agronomists, will have all the  temptations  associated  with  globalisation  and  the  brain  drain,  displacing  their  skills  to  other countries and communities.

These pressures on Generation Y will inevitably affect their family roots, abandon traditional family skills and reduce the inter-generational understanding of their family locality. Although this process is well advanced in the richer, more industrially developed countries, it will severely reduce the pool of local indigenous family-based  knowledge in fragile ecosystems that need this most of all in terms of storing carbon and reducing greenhouse emissions. This challenges face us all now – but most of all it faces the Generation Y. 

Opportunities for Generation Y to Combat Climate Change

The  current  youth  generation  has  more  opportunity than  older  generations  to  face  the  escalating challenges  of  climate  change.  A  growing  body  of scientists,  environmental  lobbyist  and  politicians suggest that how we change our personal and professional behaviour over the next period of 30 years will be the key to climate change mitigation and adaptation. So this generation will need to be involved in the key decision making processes and in promoting the key behaviours to reduce our carbon footprints, to protect our dear earth.

Climate Change Greenhouse Effect

This opportunity for young people is reinforced by their willingness  and  ability  to  change  fixed  patterns  of behaviour,  to  be  mobile  and  hence  adaptable  about where and how they work, to be eager to get a new job that  aligns with their own values and concerns, to be enterprising and innovative in developing new lifestyles  or  livelihoods,  and  to  be  better  educated through school or college about climate change.

Paradoxically, many young people are clearly unhappy and unfulfilled by consumer society. This may explain why many are seeking alternative, and, in many cases, more sustainable lifestyles. So potentially this is the generation to act as champions and evangelists of a new consumer/producer lifestyle.

Solutions to Climate Change for Generation Y

While  every  segment  of  society  is  responsible  for  maintaining  the  environmental  integrity  of  the community, young people have a special interest in maintaining a healthy environment because they will be the ones to inherit it. Recognizing that they will bear the consequences of current environmental policies, young  people continue to have a strong interest in protecting and preserving the planet’s resources.

As  demonstrated  through  their  contributions  to  the  World  Summit on Sustainable Development, young people are strong advocates for environmental preservation. The following strategies will help us in engaging young people in a constructive and sustainable way to deal with the climate change issue.

Climate Change Policy

1. Participation

The participation of youth in environmental protection can be sought at all levels and locations ranging from grass-roots activism and participation in conservation projects to policy-making bodies and NGOs. Governments should stop viewing youth as a population to be addressed by public policy, rather than a resource to be tapped for participation in policy- making in a variety of areas, including the environment.

2. Behaviour Change

Generation Y may be more ready than their elders to make radical change in their own lifestyles. To make the required changes fast, fundamental behaviour changes of young people will need access to a mix of education, experience, information and networks that they cannot always get from educational institutions alone.

3. Access to Information

Apart from educational institutions peer  communities  of  young  people,  based  either  in  educational institutions, neighborhoods, the workplace or virtual cyberspace, should be given support and funding for youth-led access  to  information and advice about consumer choices, participation in local inter- generational decision-making on the longer-term plans for mitigation and adaptation.

4. Training

Lasting solutions to the growing threat of youth unemployment or under-employment in the current worldwide  recession  needs  to  reflect  the whole range of challenges facing employers especially   climate   change.   Now   it   is   a   great opportunity  to  develop  specific  work  experience schemes  and  pre-employment  vocational  training that introduces opportunities for young entrepreneurs   interested   in   developing  the   low carbon  economy.

5. Communication

An effective communication  is  important. The nature and language of scientific climate  impact  assessments  also  make  it  difficult  for  the  general  public,  policy  makers  and  even decision makers to respond. Developing a culture of sustainable communication, such as youth  forums, audio, video and web conferencing will help  us communicating the climate change issue in an effective way.

6. Policy

Policy can make co-operation easier at any level. By laying down a plan of action or a set of rules, a government assures that everyone works together. When we speak of “climate policy” we mean those plans of action laid down by governments to address climate change. This could mean municipal rules for energy or water use, government regulation of industry (such as power plants and large factories), or international agreements.

You might feel that policy and young  people  exist  in  completely  different  universes.  In  fact,  what politicians  decide to do about climate change is hugely relevant to us, and young people have lots of opportunities to engage with and impact policy making.

7. Advocacy

Sometimes, when making policy, corporate influence or politics speak louder than common sense and science, in which case and a government will propose a very weak plan on climate change. In these cases it falls to young people to remind them of their role and what’s at stake. They can do better, for all of us.

8. Political Vision

Politicians  in  liberal  democratic  political  systems rarely  look  much  further  than  the  next  election. In politics, youth can help by making their influence felt as a constituency for the long term, calling  political leaders to account for the long-range environmental consequences of their decisions.

Mind This Climate Change

The natural environment must be maintained and preserved for both present and future generations. While we  can  all  have  an  impact  through  our individual  choices,  there  is  a  need  to  co-ordinate everyone’s actions to ensure that all are doing their fair  share. All generations must unite and with the right executions of the suggested strategies, we can turn the high level talks into on the ground action.