This article is part two of a two-part series on the role of youth in driving climate action. You can find part one here.
In addition to spurring decision-makers' action on climate change, young people have acknowledged that delivering powerful messages through creative mediums is more than necessary to compel a broader cross-section of the population regarding the issue of climate change.
Since the first signs mentioning “Skolstrejk för klimatet” were held in front of the Swedish parliament, the Fridays For Future movement brought millions of people, predominantly led by the youth, down to the streets for what became the largest global climate marches in history.
At the core of this activism lies the bedrock of ‘rock-solid’ scientific evidence detailing the reality of climate change and its far-reaching repercussions. This scientific foundation unequivocally highlights efforts our society should make to maintain the planet’s habitability. Scientific reports from international organisations, brimming with insights, serve as guiding pillars that bolster advocacy voices.
Despite the looming pessimism stemming from governmental inertia in achieving mitigation targets, hope still perseveres. This optimism doesn’t waver; instead, it fuels innovative responses that mirror the diversity of the environmental crisis. These responses, born out of creativity, illuminate various facets of the crisis, showcasing a breathtaking spectrum of approaches.
Directed by Slater Jewell-Kemker, ‘Youth Unstoppable’ chronicles the evolution of youth advocacy, tracing its origins from the inaugural Youth Summit for the Environment in Kobe in 2008 to the climate demonstrations that swept through global cities in 2019. The film captures the prevailing sentiments that have galvanised an entire generation, propelling them toward seizing control of their future and the planet they are poised to inherit.
Figure 1. Slater was 15 when she first began documenting youth-led climate action
Credit: Youth Unstoppable
Beyond the compelling narrative of their advocacy, whether on the streets or in face-to-face encounters with world leaders, the documentary illuminates the broad spectrum of initiatives undertaken by global youth. This spectrum spans from serving as advisors in international forums to actively engaging in local adaptation projects and ingeniously raising awareness about the multifaceted impacts of climate change.
Art stands as a pivotal channel for expressing climate advocacy. The far-reaching impact of documentaries and films made even more accessible through streaming platforms and niche outlets like waterbear.com, is being adeptly harnessed to inform, evoke emotions, and engage a broader audience. A vivid case in point is ‘The Condor and the Eagle’, directed by Sophie and Clément Guerra, offering a poignant portrayal of climate change’s impact on indigenous communities and the spirited efforts of young activists to confront these pressing challenges.
By documenting these stories, Jewell-Kemker and Guerra enable the realisation that individuals are not inevitably powerless; on the contrary, a yet-to-be-determined range of contribution possibilities exists. The stories brought to the fore hold the potential to help others identify climate efforts within their reach. While the documentary genre often follows the stories of people making extraordinary commitments to the climate mission, it also emphasises the importance of more modest and attainable steps: everybody can find and undertake actions that align with their resources and abilities.
Spanning diverse disciplines, Catherine Sarah Young’s innovative artworks explore multiple aspects of the environmental crisis. Notably, her creation ‘An Olfactory Portrait of the Amazon Rainforest’ captures the fragrances of Earth’s largest forested area. Part of ‘The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Stores’ project, this piece is a testament to her unique approach, which includes a line of scents under threat of extinction. Young effectively communicates her message by engaging a fundamental aspect of human beings: their senses. Though the rationale for addressing climate change is hardly debatable, facts and numbers seem to be insufficient to steer action. Therefore, ‘The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Stores’ appeals to human emotions, unearthing people's deep affection, fear, and fascination for Nature. It awakens this unique blend of feelings that individuals can experience when encountering the most pristine natural spaces, like the Amazon Rainforest.
Eric Marky, a member of Brazil’s Terena People, uses emotional expression to fuse heritage and innovation. As a co-founder of Mídia Índia, an indigenous news agency, he expands his impact by delving into music, skilfully merging traditional melodies with electronic beats in his role as a DJ. His partnerships with indigenous vocalists to create powerful songs not only bring attention to the challenges faced by his community but also position him as an innovator known for his ground-breaking mixes.
Some young thinkers have embarked on a quest to confront the psychological toll of climate change. Bearing witness to natural disasters, the erosion of biodiversity, and global warming can lead to a profound fear known as eco-anxiety. This anxiety is intensified by the perception that Earth’s health is crumbling beneath our feet and slipping through our fingers.
In September 2021, multiple universities surveyed 10,000 young people from 10 countries, revealing that 56 percent felt “the future was doomed.” Another study by the NGO ‘Forces of Nature’, founded by Clover Hogan, found that 70 percent of participants experienced hopelessness when contemplating climate change. Hogan, a trailblazer, advocates for addressing mental health issues arising from the environmental crisis. She established Forces of Nature to help channel anxiety and anger into constructive action. The organisation serves as a space for youth to voice their concerns, while also offering teacher training to facilitate better climate education and advising businesses on sustainability.
Hong Kong activist Tori Tsui leverages the power of words, crafting a guide for managing eco-anxiety by encouraging diverse perspectives and community-led practices. Her book, ‘It’s not just you’, delves deeper into the issue, revealing that eco-anxiety is not just triggered by the state of the planet but by how climate issues interact with and arise from broader societal injustices like sexism and racism.
Clover Hogan and Tori Tsui foster a sense of community among individuals grappling with the psychological toll of climate change. They recognize that establishing safe spaces to share concerns and raising awareness about others' shared experiences constitutes a significant step toward improvement and eventual healing.
Addressing mental health issues necessitates bridging the education gap regarding the environmental crisis. Two young scientists from Cambridge University founded ClimateScience as the world’s largest climate education platform. The organisation offers free educational resources, courses, videos, and tools to enhance climate literacy. They aim to empower individuals to combat climate change by providing easily accessible, scientifically accurate information.
A transformation is unfolding, driven by the dynamic creativity and unwavering commitment of young climate activists. Their voices resonate through historic climate marches, compelling documentaries, and forward-looking artworks, sparking a fervent sense of purpose and optimism.
Recognising the pivotal influence of young voices in shaping and driving climate action, the United Nations is proactively engaging with youth. This commitment is realised by establishing two crucial mechanisms. The first is The UN Youth Envoy, which advocates for the rights and well-being of young individuals. They collaborate closely with UN Member States, civil society organisations, and youth communities to ensure that the UN's policies and initiatives address the needs and concerns of the younger generation. The second mechanism is The Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. This group unites seven exceptional young climate leaders entrusted with advising the UN Secretary-General regarding youth engagement. They also advocate for youth-led and youth-centred climate action, and they work on optimising UN activities to cater to the distinct requirements of young individuals.
These initiatives primarily aim to collect invaluable perspectives on the unique challenges and opportunities that young people encounter in the context of climate change and play a significant role in amplifying youth voices within the UN's climate change plans. Involving youth ensures that UN strategies remain adaptable and responsive to the evolving needs of the people who will inherit our planet. As these visionary young leaders continue pushing boundaries and collaborating across disciplines, they vividly demonstrate the power of youth initiative, leading the way to a sustainable and harmonious future for our planet.
A version of this article is also published on BASE Foundation. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.