Young people have a lot more life to live, but if we don’t address climate change, the planet they live on will look nothing like it does today. The good news is, a number of young people are putting up a fight.
At the United Nations’ New York City headquarters, Mashable spoke to Noura Berrouba and Alexandria Villaseñor, two young activists who are working to make the world a better, greener place. Berrouba, 25, serves on the governing body of the European Youth Parliament, a program that helps young people engage with crucial political and cultural issues in their region. Villaseñor, 13, skipped school multiple Fridays in a row to strike outside the United Nations headquarters in New York, inspired by Greta Thunberg‘s #FridaysForFuture movement.
If you, like them, feel the weight of a warming world on your shoulders, here are three steps you can take to achieve a greener future.
1. Learn as much as you can about climate change
Like many of us, Villaseñor has experienced the dangers of climate change firsthand. While visiting family in California, the 2018 Camp Fire (the deadliest in California’s history) began. Villaseñor was staying about an hour away and says she breathed in the poor-quality air, which caused her nose and eyes to burn. On top of that, she has asthma. Because of this, she flew back home to New York City earlier than expected.
“I think young people also have a role in educating each other, and in mobilizing and engaging each other.”
“Once I got back to New York City, I kind of linked the California wildfires to climate change because climate change is fueling those fires,” says Villaseñor.
It was then that Villaseñor started researching the causes and effects of climate change — and ways she could help. For young people who are also looking for reliable resources, Villaseñor recommends following the work of climate scientists like Michael E. Mann, Katharine Hayhoe, Kate Marvel, and Peter Kalmus.
Berrouaba similarly emphasizes the role of education, noting the importance of passing on knowledge.
“I think young people also have a role in educating each other, and in mobilizing and engaging each other,” says Berrouba.
2. Understand the government’s role in climate change
For Berrouba, climate change action requires the government.
“We’re not going to solve climate change with small solutions everywhere. That’s one part of it, but the biggest part of it is changing how our system functions — rebuilding our governance, rebuilding our economy — and that happens in governance,” says Berrouba. It’s for this reason Berrouba encourages other young people to get involved in governance.
Villaseñor says that small, personal actions like recycling and eating less meat can make a difference, but ultimately agrees there needs to be a systemic change.
“It should not be the exception that citizens have access to their governance and joining their governance and voting. It should be the rule.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do myself, but it does come to the point where I do realize that 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from 100 companies all around the world, and so that’s why you need more governmental action to combat climate change,” says Villaseñor.
Berrouba additionally stresses the importance of citizenship education in schools, which she says often doesn’t exist at all or is flawed. Because some schools fail in this area, she encourages individuals to take on the responsibility of learning about governance for themselves.
For her, without this knowledge, it becomes very easy for the government to become an exclusive place that no one understands, knows how to hold accountable, how to join, or how to influence.
“It should not be the exception that citizens have access to their governance and joining their governance and voting. It should be the rule,” says Berrouba.
3. Make politicians listen
Berrouba says that although voting is a seemingly basic action, it’s important. That’s why voter turnout needs to increase among young people. She wants young people to encourage their peers to vote, attend town halls, and call their politicians — whatever it takes to make their voices heard.
And for those who are too young to vote, Villaseñor says there’s still hope. She recommends reaching out to local organizations, using social media, and taking to the streets.
“Really, I do think that to get their voices heard, if they can’t vote, they should be out protesting on the streets because we’re at the day and age where we can’t wait until we’re in power, “says Villaseñor. “So we have to start taking action now to make the people in power act on climate change, because we don’t have any time to waste.”