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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.