Faced with an uncertain future, young people around the world are joining together through activism, education, and innovation to fight the climate crisis.
In November, tens of thousands of young climate activists from around the world showed up in Glasgow to make their voices heard during the COP26 climate change conference. The generation that has grown up living with the effects of climate change spoke directly to the assembled leaders about how inaction is threatening their future.
The youth climate movement has become a major force in the climate discussion with millions marching in protests sparked by Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future school walkouts in 2018. She has inspired and encouraged a growing group of youth activist leaders from around the world. For example, Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old Ugandan climate activist who is fighting to stop deforestation in the Congo Basin rainforest, has appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and has recently written a book.
Youth activists also see climate education as essential to motivating people to take action. in 2019, an analysis done for NPR education by the National Center for Science Education showed that while 36 states recognize human-caused climate change in their state standards, less than half of the teachers actually teach it. The Climate Change Education Act was reintroduced in Congress in March with the goal to establish grants to help state and local education agencies improve climate literacy, but it has stalled in the Senate. Seeing that government institutions are slow to act, many young activists are taking on the role of educators. They are connecting and educating global audiences online through channels like Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, webinars and podcasts to increase awareness of climate impacts and solutions.
There is also a growing group of young innovators coming up with creative ideas to address the climate crisis. The World Economic Forum recently recognized 14 innovations led by young ecopreneurs that are addressing deforestation, forest degradation and decline in pollinators, and the lack of conservation training and opportunities for young people.
Another young innovator and activist just won Prince William’s Earthshot Prize. The 15-year-old winner Vinisha Umashankar was awarded a £1million prize for her invention of a solar-powered ironing cart, an earth-friendly solution to replace charcoal-powered street irons that press clothes for millions of people and contribute to the toxic air quality across India.
Speaking at the COP26 climate conference, Vinisha used her platform to express frustration with the lack of action, but also provide a ray of hope. “Many of my generation are angry at leaders who’ve made empty promises and failed to deliver… We’ve every reason to be angry. But I’ve no time for anger. I want to act. I’m not just a girl from India. I’m a girl from Earth. I’m very proud to be so. I’m a student, innovator, environmentalist and entrepreneur but most importantly, an optimist.”
Learn more about how to take climate action in your community here.