Having recently turned thirteen, I’m well accustomed to the messages given to children about climate change from a young age: Reduce, reuse, recycle, conserve energy and reduce food waste. Sometimes we’re told how – by switching off the lights we aren’t using or changing to reusable water bottles – and we try our best where we can to do so. That’s all that we, as young people, can do. Right?
70% of 18-24-year olds in the UK who’ve grown up with these messages now experience eco-anxiety. This is because we’ve been conditioned to understand we are powerless when it comes to climate action, but the facts are telling us that we aren’t doing enough. In the news, nature documentaries, online and even on the radio, scientists are telling us about the forest fires in Australia or the every-day extinction of hundreds of species.
No wonder so many of us worry about our futures when all we think we can do is recycle our plastic fruit punnets while the world is burning around us.
The pupils I see at the eco club I run in school are there because they want to make a difference. But we find ourselves thinking more about what we can do as a school to reduce our carbon footprint, and we can all agree it’s hard to come up with practical ideas that will make a big impact when we don’t realise that we, as children, have power too.
The concept of youth action for climate change has only recently become more mainstream, with youth strikes making the news more regularly, and support growing for taking time off school to join the rallies. I think it would be a lot easier for young people to realise that we can make hope for ourselves and get involved with these opportunities if everyone would consider Rebecca Solnit’s comparison of any activist movement to the Arab Spring. Here’s a quote from her book, Hope in the Dark:
“After a rain mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many do so from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown. What we call mushrooms mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organizing and groundwork – or underground work – often laid the foundation.”
This is an encouraging theory, but can be hard to apply to real action without a few ideas to start you off on your underground fungus-growing revolution. So I want to offer other young people three easily doable steps to make our own opportunities and as a consequence, our own hope. All you’ll need is some ignorance! (bear with me) – to ignore the voice in your head telling you it’s a stupid idea, or that no one will take you seriously. Anyone can do that.
Write a letter – for young people and for all ages
Writing a letter or email to your local MP, the Environment Secretary, the Prime Minister or another person in a position of power whose mind you want to change is a perfect first step to building up hope, and your underground fungus of climate action. (If you skipped the introduction to get to the list – no judgement here, we all do it – I’d recommend you read it now to avoid confusion when it comes to fungus-growing references) You can follow a hyperlink to the gov.uk contact pages for each MP by clicking their name.
Join a local strike
For this, you must find the fungus!: the organisation behind the strikes. For joining in with other young people in our local area, you can contact North Tyneside Youth Strike For Climate. There are so many opportunities and events to get involved with when you find groups like this.
Share your message
Simply bringing up a conversation about climate action can build links and present new ideas. Spread the word on social media, email and messaging apps with this illustrated copy of Steps to Youth Climate Action. This is the most important step for adults too. Share this article and document with the young people and children you know: They’re the ones most capable of taking these actions.
Gwen Lewis-Hedley is at Valley Gardens Middle School and with North Tyneside Youth Strike for Climate