Are Young People the Key to a More Sustainable World?

The future of climate change from an environmentalist’s perspective

The industrial revolution may have been a great start for mankind and the economy globally in the 18th century. However, little did we know that since the 1800s, human activities have been the main contributor of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has noted that we are currently living through the impacts of increased global temperature. UNEP points out that the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial period. The impacts of this can be seen in increased frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, flooding, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires.

As these impacts intensify overtime, many young people are feeling uncertain about the future. They experience a mix of emotions mostly stemming from fear, anger and uncertainties.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has admitted that the older generation has failed to preserve the planet and it is up to the younger generation to hold them accountable. It is this failure that motivates the youth to make a change.

Anthony Tan Kee Huat, Executive Officer (Finance) for the All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia on Sustainable Development Goals (APPGM-SDG) Secretariat also believes young people are the future of climate change. Here’s what Anthony has to say:

Anthony Tan Kee Huat

1Twenty80: What do you think young people can do to help with climate change?

Anthony Tan Kee Huat: Personally, please accept the reality that climate change is an imminent danger to every living organism on earth, not just humans. Secondly, educate yourself on what is climate change. Filter through the fake news. Thirdly, take actions to reduce your carbon footprint.

Ways to reduce your carbon footprint: Increase the temperature of your air-cond. Reduce using private cars.

  • Increase the temperature of your air-cond.
  • Reduce using private cars. 
  • Try using public transportation.

Fourth, opt for local produce. Buy local goods instead of imported goods, buy enough instead of excessive. Lastly, approach your Member of Parliament and State Assemblyman and urge them to take climate change issues seriously into their respective Legislative Chambers.

1Twenty80: What are your thoughts on young people like Greta Thunberg, a student who did something impactful as a ‘school strike’ to bring attention and urgency towards issues pertaining to climate change?

Anthony: Greta has become a spokesperson for millions of youth. The climate change recognition she has achieved in the past few years has overshadowed what we ‘older folks’ have spent a lifetime to get across. She makes Presidents shudder. She makes youth excited. I particularly love her use of the phrase “Blah, blah, blah” to signal the endless talking and no action. It has resounded even with older environmentalists like myself. It is time to stop talking and get into action.

1Twenty80: Is there a direct connection between climate change and our mental health?

Anthony: Changes of any sort disturb us. It can be a change in schedule, venue or even in planned activities. Climate change forces us to change what we have been doing for years. It changes our plans because it now rains when it should be sunny. Places that endure hurricanes and typhoons are not the most cheerful places to visit immediately after the storm subsides. The dreariness of the cold winter makes life less bearable the further north or south one travels. The heatwaves do nothing to make a person happy. So yes, there is a direct connection between climate change and mental health.

1Twenty80: In 2021, many participants in a survey led by Bath University on 10,000 people aged between 16 and 25 perceive that they have no future and governments are failing to respond adequately to climate change. What is your perspective on this?

Anthony: Every person born is fated to leave Earth one day. It is a matter of whether we can choose how we die. The lifespan of humans has leaped from an average of 40-50 years barely a couple of hundred years ago, to 70-80 years today. We are innovators. We adapt to situations. We use our intellect generally for good (but sometimes for foolish and selfish reasons). I have hope in humanity. Napoleon Bonaparte said that “A leader is a dealer in hope”. We need leaders who can dispense hope.

1Twenty80: There’s this notion that the younger generation cares more about climate change than the older generation. Do you think this is true?

Anthony: Older people will not be around in 2050. Younger people will be here suffering the effects of temperature increase above 1.5 degrees Celsius. I think younger people see the urgency of the matter. Older people still see this as a diplomatic issue, a negotiation.

1Twenty80: What do you think policy leaders can do to help with climate change?

Anthony: Stop thinking in terms of short term politics and start thinking about long term policies. Stop thinking in terms of negotiations and start thinking in terms of collaboration.

1Twenty80: How can people in the community make an impactful change towards climate change?

Anthony: We have to adopt a less carbon intensive lifestyle and adapt to a warming globe with swings in climatic events.

Responding to climate urgency should not be a burden for the younger generation to bear. Tackling climate change should transcend generational divides and instead be a community effort. Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.

Source: BBC News, United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)