This is a guest blog post submitted by Joelle Moses. She is a Vancouver-born student, currently studying International Development and Psychology at McGill University. She recently represented the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) at COP23, as a Youth Delegate.
I’ve been travelling around Europe for the past eight months, as a 20-year-old university student. Being a self-proclaimed existentialist, I’ve been appreciating every moment, and having the time of my life. However, although I fixate on relishing the present, I often find my thoughts wondering to concerns about the future. I think about the effects of climate change that we – as a global community – know are coming; and envision the stability, prosperity, blissful ignorance seen in western countries becoming an obsolete reality.
About a year and a half ago, my entire world-view transformed, as I gained an understanding of our current the global system, through my studies in International Development. A large part of this new-found awareness was internalizing the urgent reality of climate change, and understanding how central it is to most of the biggest global issues of our time, from the refugee crisis, to systemic inequality, to food insecurity. I decided, with complete certainty, that I would dedicate my life to combatting climate change. Since then, I’ve participated in various work within the sector, from university campus activism, to research within environmental NGOs, to serving as a Delegate at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Being such a young person in the field has been a particularly interesting experience, and the role of youth within this issue has been a major focus of my inquiry.
Through my experiences, I’ve come to a few conclusions, each of which, I will elaborate on in more detail. Firstly, our current economic system is entirely unsustainable. Secondly, it’s undeniable that young people will be the primary bearers of the unforgiving consequences that global warming will entail. Thirdly, the ‘youth’ demographic has an extraordinary potential to influence this problematic system. However, the fourth conclusions denotes that young people are currently massively disengaged and excluded from the high-level international politics that will determine what our future looks like.
First and foremost, the economic system driving today’s political and social decisions is entirely unsustainable. ‘Development’ in today’s world is defined as economic growth, which is based on more people buying more goods. The problem is that the world’s resources cannot keep up with consumer demands, given projections of population growth and a growing middle class. According to UN research, the rate of resource use in the 20th century has increased twice as fast as population growth, and will triple by 2050 if ‘business-as-usual’ prevails. Our world’s ecosystems simply will not be able to support this, given that we are already running out of so many essential materials such as oil, gold and even water. In fact, we have already passed four of the nine boundaries that keep our planet conducive to life.
Evidently, the relationship between environmentalism and economic growth must be re-understood: it is not an either/or scenario. All of the wealth and wellbeing known to human-kind is based on natural resources, which makes it imperative that we design a global system that is centered around protecting, rather than exploiting these resources.
The second conclusion is quite self-intuitive. We know that climate change is going to worsen drastically over the coming decades, and effects are happening faster and worse than even the most pessimistic calculations predicted. Despite this knowledge, global emissions are still on the rise, along with global temperatures. As temperatures rise, so to do the effects of climate change; which will in turn cause huge social and political destabilization – through food and water insecurity, conflict over resources, devastating natural disasters, and mass migration. Inevitably, the young people of today will be the ones left to deal with these burdensome consequences So, each day that we do not take action, the ‘best-case-scenario’ of our futures gets worse. Or, each day we do take action, the ‘best-case-scenario’ of our future get’s better. That is our choice.
That leads me to my third conclusion. Young people have the capacity to re-write the path that our futures are headed towards. One in every six people in the world fits into the ‘youth’ category, giving them huge potential to drive change; and recent history shows that they already have. For example, the recent election of the liberal government in Canada can be accredited to young people, who were essential to Trudeau receiving the majority of votes. However, even progressive governments like the Trudeau administration are still not materializing their environmental promises. In fact, they are pouring billions of dollars into the very industries that are causing global warming. Evidentially, we must do more than simply participate in elections.
However, the political arena is not a place where young people are particularly included (conclusion four). Obviously, young people are not the ones running the institutions who make high-level political decisions. Nonetheless, over 84% of young people consider it their duty to make the world a better place. We just need to find the right medium to make this happen. So, since young people aren’t the main stakeholders within high-level politics, we must leverage our potential to influence it from the outside.
It is our job to create the political pressure needed to hold our leaders accountable to action. If these leaders want to get re-elected, they must listen to their voters. We just have to make sure that we are speaking loud enough for them to hear us. That is why it is absolutely imperative that we put our voices together, and utilize our collective voice to influence those whose everyday decisions are prescribing our futures.
Science shows us that actions like turning off the lights are not nearly enough to spur the kind of change that we need if we are going to avoid Climactic Catastrophe (essentially unstoppable warming). We need to reconsider the fundamental aspects of our global system that are propelling us towards global disaster. In order to change the future, we need to change the present. We need drastic reforms, now.
I urge you to start by reading about and joining the movement against coal power production – which is a momentous part of this global issue. In the words of Irwin Corey, “If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll likely end up where we’re going.”
– Joelle Moses