In the wake of a global pandemic, climate action may feel futile. Most of the world’s inhabitants are stuck inside for the foreseeable future, meaning that in-person demonstrations are impossible — at least for now. The global economy could be entering a years-long downturn, with less money for ambitious projects or plans. And the urgency for some time will be on rebuilding, not rethinking.
But luckily, youth climate activists aren’t buying this.
Rather than wait for life to return to ‘normal,’ they are sounding the alarm from their homes; that the pandemic is a time to reflect, persist, and engage. At the March for Science Global Youth Forum — a day-long event during the EarthX conference — young voices from across the globe offered up creative solutions for fighting climate change, both during and after the pandemic.
“I think everyone who is 18 years old today is faced with a somewhat dark outlook about the future, especially right now,” said Achim Steiner, the environmentalist who heads the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), at the event’s onset. “But it is young people who have always carried us forward… now is the time to raise your voice, to speak with that perspective of the future. Because we need that energy.”
Many solutions focused on the individual: what can the youth do in their own daily lives? Arizona Muse, a model and environmental activist, informed audiences that buying secondhand clothes was the best way to “green” an industry that notoriously pollutesthe planet. Daisy Jeffrey, the climate activist behind school strikes in Australia, said sharing informative articles on social media helps raise awareness and education.
The simplest thing? Saying something. Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakatesaid she had to intervene when media outlets croppedher out of a photo with white youth activists. “When I spoke up, the truth is, I didn’t know how much power that would create. I didn’t know how much change that would create,” she said. “But it made me realize that speaking up causes change, no matter what platform you have.”
The next category were collective solutions: what can the youth do in their communities? Youth4Naturefounder Marina Melanidis presented videos from activists in Europe, Africa, and Asia who fought for nature-based solutions in their own backyard. Student activist Joshua Omolola discussed When We All Vote, an initiative that helps people register voters and cast ballots, even during lockdown.
As the inheritors of the future, activists argue that the youth are responsible for talking to their communities about shared issues. Vic Barrett, a young plaintiff in a major climate change lawsuit, advised those tuning in to start conversations about climate justice with older generations. COVID-19 was good practice: “Learning how to help people around you in this time of crisis can help a lot in translating to being a good climate activist,” Barrett said, “which is about starting locally and with those close to you.”
But what about bigger institutions? A number of activists addressed the bridge between the youth and the powerful bodies who decide climate policy. How do they get a seat at the table?
Swiss activist Marie-Claire Graf said YOUNGO, the children and youth constituency at the UN climate talk, is pushing to improve climate curriculum in schools, and promote other forms of representation. “People shouldn’t shy away from this technical process, because this is the place where the policies for our futures are decided,” Graf said. “So please engage — every one of us has gone through the phase of not understanding what’s going on.”
Mission 1.5 is a glimpse at what that could look like. The online game allows players to make climate decisions — the results of which will be examined at UN talks. Cassie Flynn, the project adviser, said it was an innovative way of pressuring governments to pay attention to the youth. “We’re going to have conversations with policymakers to ensure that actually the voices of the people are heard,” said Flynn, “and have the ability to influence, to encourage, sometimes push, world leaders to make sure that they are being responsive to the voices of the people.”
As the Earth pulls itself out of the pandemic, activists said now is the moment for the youth to fully take the reins of the climate movement, and put it at the top of the list of priorities. Whether it was individual, collective, or institutional change, the possibilities are endless, especially at a time when hope seems diminished. With a new global agenda in order, it’s time to act.
“There are so many different areas where you can be pushing for climate justice,” said Alexandria Villaseñor, the 14-year-old founder of Earth Uprising. So find the area where you think you can make the most change, which resonates with you.”
Written by: John Surico