Comment: How young people are the key to building a sustainable future

Last weekend the Cambridge Climate and Sustainability Forum hosted an event focused on leadership in the climate debate.

Cambridge student and Forum member Daisy Haywood explains why the role of students in inspiring change is so crucial.

Solar car built in 2011 by Cambridge University Eco Racing team (IntelFreePress)

Climate change is the ultimate challenge of the 1.8 billion young people living in the world today.

It will not only shape our lives and the choices we have available to us, but will also determine our place in history.

Will we be remembered as the generation that stood back and watched as the world went up in flames, or the generation that created a safe and sustainable future for our children and grandchildren?

Young people have a massive potential to mobilise radical change. We have been taught climate science from an early age and have been bombarded with messages from the media and organisations about how we may live more sustainably.

We are a more connected generation than any before us, with social media facilitating instantaneous information sharing and networking. And we still have the creativity, passion and openness to change that are often later worn away by the daily burdens of life.

At the Cambridge Climate and Sustainability Forum last weekend, there were plenty of exciting examples of initiatives that are capturing this potential of young people.

Cambridge Hub is a student-run network, with over 35 member groups

We heard from Hanna Thomas, the Green Jobs Director at the Otesha Project, how she is working with the East London Green Jobs Alliance to promote green jobs that are well paid, offer the opportunity for career progression, and have environmental stewardship at its core.

Grace McKelvey, the President of Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, spoke about how her University’s society is engaging students with climate change research and providing them with the skills, networks and experience that will help them lead the transition to a low carbon economy.

Whilst there has certainly been a growing momentum in the youth climate movement over the past few years, why is it that us “committed greenies” still only form a minority?

Most young people, if asked on a street would say they know about climate change and recognise something needs to be done about it, but would hardly ever consider giving up their precious Saturdays to attend a Forum devoted to the matter, or participate in a student campaign calling for stronger environmental leadership from their universities.

Momentum for change

So what is the missing piece (or pieces) of the jigsaw that is preventing young people’s knowledge and interest in the issue being converted into change?

Firstly, we have failed thus far to connect with people at a human scale.

I find it hard to get upset or scared by graphs and data, however terrifying the message is behind them. Instead of science and statistics, we need to appeal to people’s values.

As Anne Miller, founder of The Creativity Partnership said, we must frame our ideas so it fits into other people’s focus of attention.

For young people, this may mean presenting climate change as an energy security and cost-efficiency issue, a problem for technological solutions, or a spiritual or moral matter.  Whatever it be, effective communication is key.

Secondly, the current political economic system needs radical reform. The short-termist, corporate-controlled laissez-faire capitalism that dominates the world, pulls power out of the peoples’ hands.

If young people are to engage with the political system and feel as if their voice counts, serious change needs to happen now.

As a matter of intergenerational justice, young people should be given a legitimate place in the decision-making process around climate change, because we will have to face the consequences of the choices made today.

RTCC will be launching our Student Collaboration Project tomorrow at 10am – if you’re interested in getting involved email [email protected], Tweet @RTCCnewswire or leave us a message on Facebook.

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