The Role of Youth in Climate Action
By Jimi T Hardee & Rachel Major
“I don’t want your hope, I want you to panic and I want you to act” - Greta Thunberg to the World Economic Forum in early 2019.
At 16 years old Swedish Greta Thunberg is up for the Nobel Peace Prize for starting School Strike for Climate. She began a worldwide phenomenon of students protesting a lack of climate action at our highest levels of government. While some say this wastes lesson times, Greta points out that “political leaders have wasted 30 years on inaction. And that is slightly worse.”
It’s a compelling argument, particularly when in the past decade, we have seen oil and gas companies spend more than a billion dollars convincing the US federal government (and by extension the voters) that climate change doesn’t exist.
Is it any surprise then that from the Sunrise Movement (the youths that brought the Green New Deal to Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez) to Greta Thunberg, this call to action attitude resonates with the youth of today? We sat down with NuLeaf CEO Rachel Major to discuss why we don’t think so.
“It’s a social problem more than a scientific one at this point. We’ve got maybe 11 years to make tangible progress towards addressing climate change… We have to get people to believe that there is a problem and believe that it’s our responsibility to fix it.” Says Major
While this might seem like a herculean task ahead of us, as a younger generation begins to join the workforce, for the first time we may be seeing the odds tip in our favor.
Power and Responsibility
The Climate Advocacy Lab statistics for the US suggest that only 55% of Americans over the age of 55 believe that global warming is caused by human activities as opposed to a whopping 75% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24.
This increase of recognition in American youth is key to combating climate change, as Rachel believes that ultimately young people have the greatest responsibility to find solutions.
“It’s important for youth to get involved because we are the ones who are going to facing the majority of these problems. Effects of climate change are already being seen and they’re only going to get worse. We can’t afford to have illusions about solving them.” Says Major
“There is a kind of attitude some people in the older generations have that ‘it might be bad, but it’s far off, and it’s not going to be a climate apocalypse.’ and the reality of the situation is that it might very well be exactly that. Younger people may be judged for their impatience, but we can’t rely on elders who may be complacent.”
It does certainly seem like we may be on our own in addressing climate change, as only 29% of Americans over the age of 55 believe that global warming will pose a serious threat in their own lifetimes. However, necessity aside, the world’s youth may be the best suited to find the creative solutions we need in the coming decades. As Rachel sees it
“A fresh take on infrastructure is key. We haven’t spent 30 to 40 years of our lives working within the confines of the infrastructure we have, and that can be leveraged as a strength.”
She goes on to explain that understanding the interconnectivity of industries and societies is an asset that may aid young people in the quest for setting the world right:
“Certainly one of the most important things to understand about climate change is that all of our problems are interconnected, and so our solutions need to be as well. That includes working with people from incredibly diverse backgrounds, socially and scientifically”
“Understanding how to leverage our differences as strengths, and especially how solutions from different disciplines and industries can work together is something that the older generations, who might be used to working in silos, sometimes have trouble wrapping their heads around.”
So What Can You Do?
So if you are a young person, concerned as many of us are at the prospect of catastrophic climate change, you may be wondering at this point what you can start doing now to make a difference. To you, Rachel had this closing advice:
First and foremost, remember that solving climate change requires an educational shift. A culture of pompous scientists and engineers can leave other citizens less likely to listen to us even at their peril. Motivate your actions so that you can find common ground (we all want a healthy place to live, don’t we?) and let your climate knowledge be accessible to others.
If you are coming at it from an entrepreneurial angle I would advise you to think hard about why you are making this decision. You need to understand that (especially as a young person) the odds are against you. Things are going to get hard and when they do you need to have a good answer to the question: “why am I doing this?”
Once you are in the thick of it the best thing you can do is leverage your creativity to find patterns in weird places, use that mobility to come up with a seemingly-crazy solution and then sit down and do the work. No one argues with results.
Lastly, you need to accept to a certain degree that you don’t fit into people’s boxes. I am often told by people in the business world that I don’t really seem like a CEO and at this point, I take it as a compliment.
I don’t say this to put down any other CEOs, I know a lot of great ones, but the people who want others to fit into their ideas of what an executive is are often the people who are going to keep doing things the same way we have been for decades.
If there is one thing you should take away from this, it’s that business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore.