I am Sarah – I was asked to write an insight of my generation’s thinking on climate change. I am in no way the only voice, but I am one voice. I hope you find it useful. This is an opinion piece. I am 23.
I would appreciate it if you read it to the end, because I offer solutions to all the things I grumble about.
If you are in your mid twenties now, you will have seen the climate change talks around you grow from their very beginning – where hope was a seed growing and everything seemed like it was possible and all it needed was a little hope and ingenuity. We all assumed the conservative governments just needed a little convincing, then we got small gestures offered by left wing governments who didn’t really know what they were doing. People who did know what they were doing were swept slowly under the rug, to the point where to be a climate change activist even seemed a little ‘Oh how sweet, they really think they can do something… But you’re fighting a losing battle, honey’.
The news bias didn’t help.
And this is not really a conscious attitude at all. Maybe it’ll be conscious when you meet a climate change denier at a party and give 5 minutes to trying to change their mind, but how do you change stupidity, fear and ignorance?
It’s a subtle anxiety that is ever present at the back of everyone’s mind. Perhaps it was similar to the nuclear threat a few decades ago (what did we learn from grassroots activism and engagement then we can apply now?). How much time do we have left? And why the bloody hell have those we trusted to lead us put us here?
And I think this has all led to the apathy permeating my generation. Due to our social media saturated lives, we are bombarded with 10-20 desperate causes a day, from climate change to poverty to refugees to homelessness. It gets to a point where if you engage in everything you will fall apart – likely to end up buried under your doona in a flood of tears and no earthy use to anyone.
Everything seems insurmountable, you assume humanity is doomed and put your head in the sand and switch off. We feel like we have tried since we were small to get someone to listen, to get the big guys and girls to stop ruining our planet but selfishness always wins. And what is the point in putting your energy into that when you could be putting it into something closer to home- like a soup kitchen or just your Facebook feed. We just haven’t developed the resilience of the older generations, and perhaps due to our ever-present internet social awareness don’t have the single minded arrogance often needed to kick start a revolution
Band-aids on a sinking ship are much easier to do than finding the captain, convincing them their ship is sinking, asking them to give their jacket to the freezing engineer and getting them to fix the pump… while everyone around you is muttering that it is too late now anyway, the captain wont listen as they have a great insurance deal on this boat and it’s worth it for them to sink the ship and 2000 souls to keep their brothers ship-building business afloat.
If you want to engage my generation you’ll need to be clever, optimistic and solutions based:
If you flick the switch the 10-35 year old age group is an incredible resourceful and passionate untapped resource. It’s just stripping away the layers and layers of hopelessness and disillusionment. Ideas to change the world are at this moment sitting in heads everywhere who’ve lost hope.
Suggestions on how to engage my generation from an actual 20-something:
Social media to connect like-minded people into feeling empowered together
(Empowered, not depressed, is the word here. The attention space of a flick through generation is short, so I’d say get people meeting up as soon as possible, with a recurring Facebook event a great way to do that.) It’s fine getting the passionate people involved, but getting everyone else involved in some level is important too. A funny, engaging and inspiring social media presence will help a lot here.
Social gatherings – so talking circles can achieve real things on a grass-roots level
Encouraging young people (and old) to get together once a week/fortnight/month to discuss a way forward. An organization like the Platform could provide resources to make it easy for local community leaders and everyday citizens to kick start a group in their area. (I find luring people my age with cupcakes and pizza is often a great way to get people to turn up in the beginning. We’re a broke, hungry generation who’ll join pretty much anything if we get fed while we talk! A weekly meeting in a church hall/community space with free food, an optional 5 dollar donation and like-minded people where everyone’s ideas are heard? Brilliant!) The idea of talking circles not being talked at is important here. It’s the way to engage a resourceful but wrung out generation.
Lobby your MP’s together. Write them letters and emails during the group time. Have people who want to stick around at the end and lobby people together over a cup of tea. Keep the good vibes going.
Get onto Universities
Most already have a flagging and worn out climate change action group. Putting fire into their bellies with optimism, real solutions and hope for the future could re-ignite a lot of burnt out infrastructure that already exists. I’d try the uni’s who already offer Crisis Management, Environmental Resource Management and Climate courses and those uni’s at the top of the ranking lists in other area such a Melbourne uni, Sydney uni and RMIT first. The children of the wealthy often have much more time on their hands. Also uni’s often have a pizza budget for stuff like this. 😉
Make it easy to be involved. Make it not a chore
Most of us are working at least part time, while studying full time, while stressing about our futures, while also on some kind or other of mental health medication. Make it a pleasure to be part of this cause and ignite the fire in our bellies that makes it feel like things are possible again.
Make it feel like our fight again.
A slightly altered version of newsletters that’s easily digestible and has a bigger emphasis on optimism, grass roots community activism and maybe a story with an example about how grassroots activism once made a real change in each addition. Ending it on a funny or heartwarming, story will leave people feeling good at the end of it, while also more open to absorbing the serious stuff. Maybe run that one alongside the other more serious ones- would it be too hard to quickly chop and change a couple bits and sending out the other version alongside the first?
It’s the old adage of convincing people scared of water to go swimming. Get them to put their feet in the shallows before asking them to jump into the ocean.
Get in touch with people already in the field of climate change activism, possible young people who haven’t become too bitter or set in their ways yet, and get them on board. Would they be interested in setting up a Platform/etc in their area, with support from your group?
Creative fundraising that engages people
A sense of humour is a much better engager than anything else. Armageddon fun run? Come dressed as your favourite post apocalyptic go getter and run the length of, say, a new road that will need to be built with rising sea levels, (Hash run?- look it up) with clues along the way to get you to your destination 3-5kms away; where there might be pizza and beers and soft drink and an informal chat about getting involved. Raises money and awareness and everyone has lots of fun at the same time. Make the positives and fun about getting involved the focus rather than the ‘for god’s sake we’re all f*cked’. I know personally I’d be much more likely to get involved in something like that than a dry weekly lecture where you leave feeling worse than when you got there.
Which gets me to the structure of the engagement
Talking circles aside, maybe the introduction when everyone has arrived and has a piece of pizza and a seat can be: here’s an update on what we talked about last time, some bad news that we can do something about, some good news on the topic. An hours/flexible talking circle, run by someone who is a great facilitator without a trace of ego. Hard to find but solid gold.
The social media presence should include at least 35% funny, cute, heartwarming stories/funny memes both related and unrelated to the page. Likes= engagement= people sticking around. They might like it for the cute puppy pictures, but then get drawn into a meeting when they’re hungry and bored on a Wednesday night. You’re fighting for space amongst a million other distractions.
Make them feel they are an essential part of something they want to be a part of. No pressure, fun group with real actions and fire in their bellies, without ending up with one person steamrollering the rest.
Make it easy to lobby your MP’s from your phone
An app where you choose what politicians you want to send a message too- maybe multiple ones if you want- just tap to tick the boxes- type out a quick message send it from the app.
In your newsletters, if there’s a particular politician who can really change something you’re writing about, put a link for your readers to lobby them with a link from the email to the app where they hit the link and the politicians are already loaded and all they have to do it write a message and hit send. It wouldn’t hurt to have a funny dancing puppy as the message sent screen. J
I don’t know much about app development, but the poli’s email addresses are public, it would be a fairly simple form app. Easy to use is the key here. Fun is the turning handle.
Form links with other climate groups and find common ground
Hold rallies where everyone can meet each other. To quote Dumbledore probably paraphrasing someone else: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided… in the end, the greatest weapon [against climate catastrophe in this case] is you.”
Tell people from the go everything horrible that’s happening and they will just close their browser
My generation is fit to bursting with resourceful, well-connected people who are just worn out, busy and worn down. Make it easy, make it fun and make it an environment where good ideas are heard and acted upon.
Knowledgeable people coming to talk to groups of young (and older) people is great too – but it has to be at least 50% group discussion. We need to know that positive solutions are there, that we can be a part of implementing them, and that doing so won’t require a sacrifice of our whole way of life.
Lighting that fire in our bellies is very much a do-able thing. The way forward just needs to be bright and clear. If it’s centered around local groups people want to bring their friends to, then it’s only a matter of time before it gains momentum.
Lastly, help people feel a part of something bigger that they can be a real part of. I cannot stress this enough. People need to feel like they’re being heard in an environment that fosters good ideas and positive actions.
Lastly, please do not forget what it is to be young, and also remember that being young in 2017 is very different from being young in 1969.
Hopefully this is useful. It’s just what I thought of off the top of my head one afternoon. I’m no social media whizz but I think I have a fairly good grasp of the attitudes of my age group.