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The environmental movement is a social movement that “seeks to protect the natural world and promote sustainable living”. It dates back to the conservation movement in the 1900s and has since consisted of a variety of smaller movements within the movement as a whole. Currently, the most prominent environmental movement is the climate change movement, more specifically the youth climate change movement. Within the last decade, youth leaders have taken the world by storm and created their own youth climate movements because they are unhappy with the effort (or lack thereof) being made by older generations to protect the planet. The emergence of youth leaders has led to climate change and environmental issues becoming a part of mainstream culture, which was not accomplished by past environmental movements. Today’s youth climate movement is more effective than previous environmental movements because of the use of social media, advancement in technology, and because youth view this crisis as a moral imperative.
To begin, social media benefits the youth movement in many ways. First, the youth climate movement leaders have used social media to gather a larger following of people all over the world. This allows like-minded people to connect and stage protests that are much larger and more organized than in previous years which makes the movement more effective. For example, on September 20th, 2019 “people in all 50 U.S. states and more than 150 countries, from Germany to Australia, took to the streets to declare a climate emergency in a student-led Global Climate Strike”. These demonstrations were inspired by 17-year-old Greta Thunberg and her #FridaysForFuture movement. #FridaysForFuture started with Thunberg walking out of school alone to protest, but thanks to her use of social media it has grown into a worldwide movement. Along the same lines, social media has benefited the youth climate movement by allowing strong youth leaders to unite youth around the world. Many young people often feel that their opinions do not matter or that they can not make an impact, but by exposing them to youth leaders such as Greta Thunberg and Jamie Margolin, youth are inspired to take action. “Greta Thunberg’s actions sparked a movement,” Jake Woodier (a climate campaigner) said: “In a world where we’re often made to feel individualized and atomized, that we’re small and can’t make a difference, Thunberg has been a massive inspiration to many young people”. It is a well-known fact that there is strength in numbers, but in order to be successful, there needs to be a leader that the followers can associate with. Youth can better associate with youth leaders not only because of their common age, but because these leaders are micro-celebrities.
This means that the youth leaders are normal everyday people that have become famous through online media usage, thus making them more alike to their followers. Next, by uniting such a large and diverse group of people, youth leaders’ use of social media has successfully brought the issue into the public eye and has made climate and environmental issues a part of mainstream media. The movement’s visibility on social media and in the press has created a feedback loop. Though youth can not actually pass legislation, all of the media attention they have created is putting pressure on those who can. For instance, in July 2019, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited pressure from youth activists as one of the reasons her government plans to move more aggressively to curb carbon emissions. In addition, across much of Europe, the youth strike movement has helped put climate change higher on the political agenda for both policymakers and voters. Overall, the youth climate movement’s use of social media has made the movement more effective because it inspires and unites youth, and puts pressure on governments to make the environment a priority.
Next, the advancement of technology greatly benefits the youth climate movement for a variety of reasons. First, there are so many different types of technology that can track the damage being done to the Earth.
“Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years reveals the signals of a changing climate”.
Subsequently, this improvement in technology has allowed for more in-depth research to be conducted regarding the damage that has been done and is currently being done to the planet. In the past, most people did not believe that climate change was real, but all the technical developments and new technologies that track the damage being done to the planet has provided researchers with irrefutable evidence that climate change is real. The most important part is that almost all of this research is easily accessible online. Having all the research be easily accessible allows people of all ages to educate themselves and take action. With these technological advancements, governments can no longer deny the effects of human activity to the planet therefore they can not deny the movement as easily as before.
Finally, the most important way advancement in technology benefits the youth climate movement is because currently, technology exists that can be used to prevent and/or reverse the effects of climate change. Some of these technologies include sustainable energy (solar, hydro, wind), electric cars, GMO produce, plant-based meat products, supplements for livestock to reduce their methane emissions, and carbon removal technologies. These technological advances allow youth to recommend new solutions and develop new solutions of their own. Therefore, those in power can no longer claim that there are no solutions or that technology is not advanced enough, because there are solutions available and the youth movement knows it. By being informed about these technological solutions, youth are able to approach convincing those in power to save the planet differently than in the past. In the past, implementing technology and/or legislation to help the environment was more difficult because of the limited technology available which required governments to go out of their way and invest in products that were expensive and did not have much research regarding the success rate. As a result of all these advances, youth are able to discuss sustainable ways to reverse the effects of climate change that are proven to be successful.
Therefore, the youth movement just needs to convince those in power that these investments are worth it. For example, youth leaders may try to convince companies to issue electric or hybrid company cars rather than cars that use gasoline because known gasoline reserves may only last up to 52 more years. That means that in the not too distant future, the prices of gasoline will increase as it becomes more difficult to find and it will actually be cheaper to use more eco-friendly cars. Though it is unsettling that many need to be convinced that saving the planet is profitable rather than doing it because is the right thing to do, it is still an effective way to protect the planet. To conclude, the advancement of technology greatly benefits the youth climate movement because it allows the effects of climate change to be tracked, and it provides the youth movement with effective solutions which can be used to initiate the necessary change in society.
Moving on, the youth climate movement is also more effective because they are treating this crisis as a moral imperative. A moral imperative is defined as “something that must happen because it is the right thing”. Youth view this movement as such because it impacts their future the most. They see it as a profound injustice and an existential threat to their generation and those that will follow. The impact of climate change on youth has also been noted by many people from the older generations including UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who has endorsed the school climate strikes that have been taking place worldwide, saying: “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry”.
Furthermore, viewing climate change in this new way allows this movement to be more effective than previous environmental movements because their message is no longer just an environmental message, it is now a human-environmental message. Harriet Thew, an environmental social scientist at the University of Leeds, UK, notes that “more and more, they are talking about the problems for people and really recognizing that human-environment connection”. Their message is not about saving the rainforest or saving whales; it is about saving the most vulnerable people on Earth. Youth also treat this crisis as more of a moral imperative because the damage being done to the planet is so extensive that many young people say they can not fathom bringing kids of their own into the world. Lana Perice (a youth activist) went as far as to say that “having children is not ethical. It’s literally a burning house”. This perspective emphasizes how unethical it is to not attempt to save our planet because according to section seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person”. The longer society waits to implement environmentally friendly policies, the more aggressive they will need to be which will impose on one’s liberty. To summarize, viewing this issue as a moral imperative makes the youth climate movement more effective than previous environmental movements because it puts ethics at the center of the movement.
There are many that may not believe that climate change is real and that may argue its effects. The first counterargument to be addressed is that youth have no political impact as they can not vote or run for office. Though it is true that youth can not actually participate in politics, they can still influence them. As previously mentioned, in July 2019, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited pressure from youth activists as one reason her government plans to move more aggressively to curb carbon emissions. Secondly, it has been proven that youth activists remind adults why they care about the environment in the first place. Connie Roser-Renouf (a climate-communication researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia) says that about one-quarter of the adults in a 2018 survey thought that the most important reason to act on climate change was “to provide a better life for our children and grandchildren”. That response proves that youth activists may remind adults why they care about the environment in the first place.
A second counterargument is that youth do not actually do anything, they are just the face of a movement run by adults. In reality, youth are founding their own organizations as they are unhappy with the way adults are approaching this issue, so they are taking matters into their own hands because it impacts them the most. For example, momentum for the 2019 climate strike came from many different places, but its origins can be traced to a 2018 march lead by the youth-led organization Zero Hour. Zero Hero is a youth climate change movement and was co-founded by Jamie Margolin at the age of 16. This movement was founded because Margolin was frustrated with “the inaction of elected officials and the fact that youth voices were almost always ignored in the conversation around climate change and the profound impact that it would have on young people”. In addition, on August 20, 2018, Greta Thunberg staged her first climate strike which involved “skipping school to protest for climate action outside the Swedish parliament”. The next month Thunberg launched the ongoing “Fridays for Future” strikes and invited other students to join her by holding school walkouts every week. Clearly, youth are spearheading this climate movement and are not just the face of it.
The youth climate movement is more effective than previous environmental movements because of the use of social media, and advancements in technology, and because youth provide a different perspective due to viewing the crisis as a moral imperative. This movement has only really existed for a few years and has already made such a large impact on society through awareness, strikes, legislation, etc. Most of the other environmental movements were not as mainstream therefore they were not as effective as this one. When the youth who are fighting for climate change and overall the environment become adults, society will change as the older generations will be faced with generations with power who have different values and beliefs. Though this youth climate movement is a large movement, it is a part of the larger environmental movement. It has been effective in uniting, spreading awareness and information, and overall connecting and uniting people from all around the world for their cause. In conclusion, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, walk of life, etc. this movement has touched many people and taught them the importance of preserving our planet.
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