I greatly admire today’s young people — but I sure don’t envy them. We older generations are leaving them a hell of a mess.
Granted, many people of all ages are trying to help the world shift to efficient, cost-effective renewable energy and avert the increasingly devastating impacts of a heating planet. But some don’t want to give up the conveniences and luxuries they’ve become accustomed to, from jet-setting vacations to private automobiles, so they don’t push too hard for change.
And despite international agreements and significant progress on many fronts, those with real power to effect change are still propping up the fossil fuel industry. As oil companies rake in record profits, the world’s biggest economies, the G20 countries, invested a record US$1.4 trillion in public money in coal, oil and gas last year — despite ongoing pledges since 2009 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.
It pains me to mention political “leaders” who oppose almost all climate policy and action — some publicly rejecting climate science altogether! The excessive support some show for polluting, inefficient energy sources makes me wonder who they’re really working for. They’re certainly not prioritizing the interests of those they were elected to represent, including those too young to vote.
It’s no wonder so many young people are angry — and sad, anxious and afraid. We’ve failed them. When they should be enjoying relatively care-free lives with friends and family, learning and gaining experience, many have become rightfully terrified for their futures. The resulting despair can be paralyzing.
It’s up to older generations to foster hope by taking concrete action to get off fossil fuels and stop destroying natural spaces. But we must also recognize the serious, often long-term mental health effects youth can experience in facing this crisis. We need to ensure they have access to adequate mental health support and tools for self-care.
After waiting too long for adults to make the right choices, many young people are finding that channelling their anger and fear into action is one antidote to despair. From climate strikes to community activism, they’re finding ways to connect with each other and shape their future.
Some have courageously mounted legal challenges. In Montana, 16 young people successfully sued the state this month for violating their right to a clean and healthful environment.
“Because of their unique vulnerabilities, their stages of development as youth, and their average longevity on the planet in the future, plaintiffs face lifelong hardships resulting from climate change,” the judge wrote.
Many are hoping the landmark decision will energize other youth climate lawsuits, including one next year in Hawaii.
In Canada, seven young people are suing the Ontario government over climate issues. And in a case supported by the David Suzuki Foundation, 15 youth from seven provinces and one territory are suing the federal government for violating their rights to life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and violating their right to equality under section 15, because they’re disproportionately affected by the climate emergency.
Again, young people shouldn’t have to spend their time and resources going to court to compel governments to do what they should be doing in the first place: ensuring their constituents live in a healthy environment and that youth of all ages can expect a bright future.
It’s exhausting enough just living with the growing climate crisis, even if you aren’t in the midst of fires or floods or smoke-clogged skies — or worse. Knowing so many solutions exist and that change is possible offers hope but can also be a source of frustration, as there are so many barriers to progress.
Young people are especially vulnerable. I urge all youth to talk about and get active in climate issues if you can — whether it’s participating in a march, writing a letter or joining an organization — but remember also to enjoy your life. We still have each day, and it’s important and energizing to have fun, get out into nature, spend time with friends and family, listen to music, dance, play and just live.
Let’s not be overcome by despair. A better future is achievable. We older generations owe those coming after us our consistent, focused efforts to do whatever we can to get there!
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.
Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.