This blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Being green is no longer only a concern for tree-hugging stereotypes. It is creeping into the consciousness of the political classes, and is starting to be taken seriously as the life-and-death issue that it is.
Just a few years ago, the idea that 171 world leaders would come together and make public commitments to slow global warming would have been preposterous, dismissed as an idealistic dream. But it happened, just months ago, at COP21.
Before we get swept up in the back-slapping that accompanied COP21, we must remember that promises and collaborative gestures are just that - gestures that have yet to be turned into real, trajectory-changing action.
Let’s face the facts: our planet is on a course for self-destruction. Long-term planning has its place, but the time to act cannot come too soon. Although leaps and bounds are being made in environmental enlightenment, the hangover of old politics drags its heals and grinds progress to a snail’s pace. What we need is a total step-change away from these old protocols; we need a young, fresh perspective.
Too often are young people viewed as the apathetic, naïve and inexperienced class. Look closer, and you’ll find young leaders in the making, but also - more importantly - you’ll find young leaders already leading. There are uncountable people under the age of 30 who are carving their own way in the world, undeterred by the creaky and cobwebbed structures that have been laid down before them.
These fresh-faced leaders rage against the machine not because they are rebels without a cause, but because they recognise that the machine is broken. They have yet to be conditioned by the business-as-usual approach to social change, and are part of what is by all account the most empowered generation in history. They’re starting to get their voices out there, and everyone should listen up - I can promise you that many of them know better than you.
It is no coincidence that the world’s most ground-breaking and life-changing innovations have been created and grown by people in their twenties. Take Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, as just a few examples - each of these fresh ideas has transformed the way the world functions, all with the underlying theme of collaboration and communication. Let’s take the hint - the entire world should be working together for the greater good of all, actively cooperating in our equal stewardship of our planet.
Young people today have grown up surrounded by natural disasters, famine, and melting ice caps. Their supposedly juvenile view that sees this as unacceptable is, in fact, the most inspiring and refreshing perspective. Untainted by incumbent worldviews, they have the clarity and the courage to reject the status quo.
Now that new media has destroyed the wall that kept disruptive voices out of real decision-making, young leaders have the platform and impetus to demand transparency, accountability and responsibility for the world we share.
According to Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse study, 81% of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, and the majority see themselves as global citizens with a responsibility to make the world a better place. There is no escaping this demand - this is the rising workforce we’re talking about.
No longer are business leaders and their companies judged solely on financial successes. The profit-purpose discussion has expanded these metrics into how individuals and corporations are somehow improving the world.
This overwhelming sense of social responsibility has put environmental issues front and centre. Most people you meet under the age of 30 will tell you that climate change is one of the most impending threats the world faces. This just isn’t the case for older generations of politicians - old men in dark suits who encourage each other to focus on everyday, tangible issues. It is the younger generation that has come with fresh eyes to realise that effects of climate change are an everyday reality for many citizens, and are a tangible prospect for all of our futures.
Young leaders therefore have a key role to play in increasing political action on climate change. The One Young World Environment Summit, which is being held in Arizona towards the end of May, will bring together young environmental leaders and world experts to discuss solutions to environmental challenges and the role young leaders can play in solving them. It’s bringing together those with power and experience with those you have an avid hunger for change, both inspiring and empowering one another in equal measure. Convening these two groups that give a damn will be a catalyst for cross-generational, innovative thinking and demonstrable action.
In the UK, the EU referendum debate has begun to bring environmental sustainability into question, and without seriously addressing this, campaigners will miss out on crucial support. As with many a political vote, the final outcome relies on the youth voting bloc. The same group that we’ve learnt care strongly about environmental issues. The answer is clear - politicians have to devote as much effort to convincing the population of their environmental policies as they do on the other most concerning public issues, terrorism and the threat of poverty.
Political action must include the demands and wishes of the young, for it is their world and their future we are fighting to save. I have seen the power of youth, and I am steadfast in my belief that they can lead the way to a more sustainable future.
Kate Robertson is co-Founder of One Young World.