We spoke with young people from around the world about why it’s hard for their peers to care about the environment, how they reconcile their fears about the future, what made them start caring, and the little things that give them hope.
Gabriela Gallo Torres, 17
About me: I study international relations. I like photography and eating healthy, although I’m a huge fan of pizza and fries.
Why it’s hard to care: It’s the “You Only Live Once” motto. When I was in school, a couple of years ago, I was talking with my classmates about pollution and climate change, and I remember this guy laughing at our conversation and saying something like, “Even if you care, the Earth is going to end anyway.” I was so pissed off. People like that guy are why people don’t dare to actually do something for our world.
What gives me hope: As an international relations student, sometimes it is really hard for me to stay hopeful, because I’m always reading about Beijing’s air pollution, Shell in the Arctic, and so on. But what gives me hope is to know that I’m not alone – I mean, there are people, like everyone involved with the Guardian’s Keep It In the Ground campaign, who are working for our planet. We care about the future, we don’t live just for the moment.
Simon Quarenghi, 23
About me: I live in Edmonton, Alberta, which you could say is the oil capital of Canada.
Tipping point: I moved from small town Prince George, British Columbia to Edmonton at 19 to work in the oilfield – I went from working in a deli and a bar to working on a service rig fixing wells. There were times when I felt pride in my work as a roughneck, helping run the country and that. But after a few months I started to really think just how much oil was being pumped at any given moment over the entire world. And how much diesel and gas was being burned just to get more crude out of the ground. It started to seem like a joke: one big crazy circle of oil consumption with no end in sight. To drive down the road and see that every second vehicle was a jacked up diesel truck, to see a pump-jack in every field, to see all the oil refineries and plants, it started to get to me. There is no way we can continue this way of living for much longer, not without destroying the air we breathe and the land we live on.
What gives me hope: I try to focus on the growing number of renewable energy sources that are coming into play. If we make renewables more abundant and affordable, our future may look a little less bleak.
Mohamed Yeslem Abbad, 20
Who I am: I’m a mechanical engineering student. I enjoy reading and playing football the most.
Tipping point: I can’t recall a particular tipping point. I come from a country that relies heavily on fishing to fight malnutrition and starvation of its most vulnerable population. Only this month, dead fish were found on the cities’ shores with traces of tar in them, which poses environmental problems as well as economic ones for the fishermen. And I come from a city that lies below the sea level, and is very fragile in the face of the rare rain – people in some neighbourhoods have been thrown out of their homes because of the water. And the rise in temperatures is very troublesome. Since most of the country is a desert, the sand movements surrounding the city pose a serious risk. The animals (cows and camels mostly) and their owners also suffer greatly from these decreases in rainfall and rises in temperatures.
What gives me hope: If anything gives me hope is the work of prominent thinkers like Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, the Guardian of course, and the NGOs working all over the world pushing politicians and big corporations to make decisions against climate change.
Luke Young, 18
Who I am: I’m about to head into university in September to study English literature (assuming my hopes are not crushed by the draconian education system at the last stretch).
Why it’s hard to care: For what it’s worth, I think young people are one of the main groups in society that do actually care about climate change, and a lot of the stigma actually comes from the attitude of older generations towards youth. In my own experience, when you talk about climate change and saving the planet, people look at me like I’m a raging communist or a 70s hippie born too late.
Tipping point: I always thought as a child that climate change was an issue being solved, and we were all going to be fine. Then, when I was 13, I saw people on the news opposing the construction of wind turbines literally on the horizon of the countryside near their homes/estates, and they won. It was then I realised that people actually opposed not only the existence of climate change but also the methods to stop it. They were blinded by their desire for a beautiful countryside.
Reed Shapiro, 23
New York, NY
Who I am: I’m a recent college graduate. I currently work at a carbon management firm.
Why it’s hard to care: It boils down to science. Biology, chemistry and physics. I used to hate bio and chem. Now they fascinate me because I’ve realised they make up the world around us as well as us. So people hear “the science behind climate change” and they think, “Yawn”. Those who do look beyond that will immediately feel fear. The science/truth of it all is truly terrifying as it is such an all-encompassing problem that one person couldn’t possibly have any effect on by themselves. I felt a sense of isolation at first, still do, but I’m more driven than I am afraid at this point.
What gives me hope: Climate change is beatable. Happiness is a mindset, we construct our own frameworks of preference, and if one day everyone in the wold woke up and said, “I’m going to tackle climate change,” it would get done.
Edwin Mwashinga, 24
Who I am: I’m a masters student in environmental science at Pwani University in Kenya. My interest is mainly on sustainable development.
Why it’s hard to care: There is a big knowledge gap on climate change in my country. Our education system only introduces it in high school, in an optional Geography course. The majority of the populace have no idea of its causes, effects and mitigation measures. Unless you choose to pick this course in the tertiary level of education, you will live oblivious of the calamity.
My tipping point: Climate change in Kenya is a real issue – we experience a lot of its effects. In my town, the rise of temperatures over the last few years is very evident. The change in temperature means some pests and disease pathogens are spreading to parts where they couldn’t survive before. Many parts of our country experience erratic and excessive rainfall, which causes floods and landslides. Prolonged drought also happens, in areas where we never used to experience it before. Agriculture, which is the backbone of our country’s economy, is facing challenges.
What gives me hope: The campaigns worldwide by environmentalists give me hope.
Karina Alvarez, 20
Who I am: I am a sophomore environmental science major at Loyola Marymount University.
Why it’s hard to care: I have many cousins who have never been camping, who cringe at the idea of spending a day outside the city, and believe that the solution to the climate change crisis is to adopt another planet as our homeland. We protect what we love, and we love what we know. How can the youth be expected to protect the environment if we don’t have the opportunity to experience it or are restricted from learning about it?
Tipping point: I remember taking a carbon footprint quiz in high school and believing that, as an avid light switch monitor and recycler, I would have a tiny impact on my world. I was shocked by the results: a population of 7 billion people living like me would require the resources of four planets! I was eco-friendly, by the standards of my carnivorous styrofoam-wielding family, so how could I have such a large footprint? I made the transition to a plant-based diet, edged plastics and disposables out of our home, and got more involved in the environmental justice field.
Flora Sonkin, 22
Who I am: I’m a Franco-Brazilian social sciences and communications undergraduate student in Paris.
Why it’s hard to care: It is a subject still very restricted to people that have access to higher education and other benefits in life that make them feel more confident about themselves and their power to change things in the world.
Tipping point: Being brought up in Rio definitely helped. It’s a place where urban life is completely tangled with nature, and we can see changes really fast: species of animals that are not there anymore, a river that dries up, a beach that has less length of sand, etc. Moving to Paris was also a shock. I never thought about really getting sick with air pollution before, and we do here, all the time.
What gives me hope: I like to always think about this as an issue that brings us all together – no matter which country you come from, it touches all of us as human beings living in this planet.
Walker Willis, 23
Who I am: I am a university student working on my degree in electrical engineering. I grew up on a dairy farm.
Why it’s hard to care: For me, if there isn’t someone to be a leader. In one environmental economics class, after a rather depressing yet inspiring lecture on climate deals and the level of economic sacrifices we will need to make, I talked to fellow classmates and was overwhelmed by how many found the lecture really … boring.
Tipping point: I remember it clearly. I was about nine, and my older brother was talking to my father about a report he was doing for one of his high school courses on global warming and the impact it was predicted to have on society. Being a child, I was rather scared by this. I know now that nothing is as black and white as you see it as a child, but as I have grown up I have seen directly the effects of climate change. When I was 16, there were two ‘one hundred’ year floods in my hometown in less than a year.
What gives me hope: I get hope out of contributing to the change, by working my hardest to see it happen. This will quite honestly be the focus of most of my life’s work.
Jordan Redding, 23
Christchurch, New Zealand
Who I am: I’m a Presbyterian ministry intern in Christchurch, New Zealand. Last year the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa divested from fossil fuels … very exciting moment.
Tipping point: Our regional Church council invited me along to speak on writing a submission [to the government that will inform what they bring to the UN Climate Conference in Paris]. I turned up and spoke. Things seemed to be going well and the group were genuinely keen to take action. Then one of the members asked me how I got to the meeting. Did I drive or did I bike? I had to somewhat ashamedly confess that I drove.
As I drove home after the meeting, I kept on trying to make excuses as to why I was justified in driving to the meeting. But I couldn’t get over the fact that at my heart I was a hypocrite. I am expecting my government to take radical action; I am expecting those around me to give a damn; but I myself haven’t made the radical change in my life. As yet, I still haven’t – but I can’t ignore my hypocrisy now. Perhaps my greatest motivation is that, as a Christian preacher, I cannot stand in the pulpit preaching “change” with any integrity unless I am willing and have taken steps to make that change!
What gives me hope: I appreciated the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground podcast episode on religion. The team were spot on in drawing attention to the various narratives that Christianity tells: narratives about stewardship, sacrifice, justice, salvation, etc. For me I think, the greatest hope is found in the Christian claim that only from death comes new life. Even in the most despairing of situations, there is still hope of change. And my job — our job — as I see it, is to patiently endure and to be that voice of justice, never tiring, until change eventually happens!