Should young people lead the fight against climate change?

Across the world, leaders are setting ambitious targets in the fight against climate change, whilst at the same time greenlighting projects which contribute to global warming. Meanwhile, young people understand the threat the planet faces and are pushing for change – is it time to hand the environmental reins to them? Mel and Alex discuss in their latest conversation-blog.

Mel Young: The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said in a recent visit to Scotland that he would be supporting the Cambo oil drilling plans in the North Sea. Britain has signed up to ambitious environmental targets so this seemed like a contradiction, particularly since the UK is hosting COP26 later in the year when world leaders gather to agree to plans to tackle the climate crisis. Johnson’s rationale was that oil drilling creates jobs and wealth and that you couldn’t simply rip up existing contract – that might seem like a good reason but does it make any sense?

Alex Matthews: It makes absolutely no sense! This summer we have seen the catastrophic effects of climate change again and again – flooding in China and Europe and deadly heat waves in the US and Canada, to name just a few examples. Scientists are saying again and again that we need to act now, before it’s too late – and it’s very nearly too late. So it seems crazy that the government is greenlighting plans such as this one, particularly when they have committed to environmental targets. It makes a mockery of the targets and of the fact that we are hosting COP26. I know jobs and livelihoods are important, but wouldn’t it be better to train people who currently work on oil rigs so that they have the skills to work in the green economy?

MY: The younger generation seem to instinctively understand the imperative nature of doing something now. Governments, whilst they might be well intentioned, appear to be acting very slowly and North Sea oil is an example of this. I agree with you, if entrepreneurs or even social social entrepreneurs were running the country then they would have already worked out how to create jobs and wealth by shutting down oil operations and investing in the green economy. It is essential to retrain workers and train others so that the green economy can be built quickly and that climate targets can be achieved.

AM: It also just doesn’t make sense from a practical perspective. Countries are increasingly getting their power from sustainable sources – I think recently we had a few days in a row in this country where we were entirely powered by sustainable energy. And even in places like Texas, where oil has been the lifeblood of the economy and of their way of life, solar energy has become cheaper than fossil fuels, so they are switching over. So it seems very backward-looking to invest in oil in a world that needs and wants to switch to sustainable energy.

I think so many people want to contribute to creating a more secure future – I’m sure lots of people who currently work in the fossil fuel industry would be eager to train in green energy. Not only would they be ‘doing their bit’, but they would also be future-proofing their careers. 

MY: The worry is that COP26 just becomes a bit of a talk shop. What we need is genuine leadership from the leaders of the world and that leadership also includes an ambitious action plan with practical steps which starts right now! It is not a question of waiting until contracts run their course, contracts can easily be cancelled, it is a question of acting now to preserve the long term rather than bothering about short term interests. With COP 26 there is a chance here but as we have seen in the past with the United Nations and other international bodies, they can become bogged down in bureaucracy with too much posturing and too little action. I think we need to hear the voices of young people right now – they need to be front and centre!

AM: Yes I totally agree. There is a Youth Summit happening in advance of COP26 – it’s billed as a chance for young people to make their voices heard on climate change. I believe on the last day they meet with ministers to give them their thoughts and opinions. I only hope that these ministers actually and actively listen to the young people – because the young people are the ones with fresh ideas, fresh perspectives and also because they’re the ones who will have to deal with the consequences of climate change if we allow it to happen. Young people really care about the planet and are really, really concerned about its future – it’s so frustrating that politicians and leaders don’t take their concerns seriously and prioritise other interests, especially corporate interests. It’s so shortsighted!

MY: As an older person, I agree! The voices of the younger generation are so important right now and it is not as if they are saying anything outrageous – they simply want to create a world which is not being destroyed on a daily basis by humans. That means we all need to change our habits but crucially it also means we need some courageous leadership from our politicians. They should stop coming up with this mantra, post-pandemic, where they say “let’s return to normal”: ‘normal’ was destroying the planet. They should be saying that there is an opportunity to create change and make a huge difference if everyone gets on board.

AM: That’s absolutely what they should be doing. I hope that COP26 is a turning point, but I fear it could get lost. Young people and others who care about the future of the planet need to carry on making a noise and making their voices heard. At The New Ism, we’re creating a platform which will allow them to do that in a constructive, positive way – there’s a lot to do!

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