“It reminds me of just how easy it is for us to lose our connection with the natural world. Yet, it’s on this connection that the future of both humanity and the natural world will depend. And it is, surely, our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.”
David Attenborough’s closing remarks in the finale of cultural hit Planet Earth 2 provided perhaps the most sombre moment in a series of pure self-indulgence.
Despite the beauty of the six mesmerising episodes Mr Attenborough had to routinely interject in between all the chases to remind us that actually, we need to look after our home. You would think that given the iconic status Attenborough has attained in pop-culture that his call to action would inspire a lot of the younger people watching – and it probably did. Ironically though, it is now harder than ever for generations Y and Z to not become disenchanted with tackling climate change.
Twenty-five years ago that all seemed different. The Kyoto protocol of 1992 established that man-made carbon emissions were causing global warming and that the nations that signed the protocol were to reduce their emissions output in order to halt the potency of climate change. Fast forward two and a half decades later and there is not much progress to show: as of July 2016 only 37 of the original 192 participating countries have binding commitments to the protocol, Canada has withdrawn from it altogether and now Donald Trump is in the White House.
Not unsurprisingly, the former game-show host and climate sceptic last week signed an executive order to replace President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in pursuit of creating more energy sector jobs. It is supposed that Trump also plans to remove Obama’s Climate Action Plan which aimed to enable America to lead the world in responding to climate change. Symbolically, the order highlighted just why it is so hard for millennials across the world to become emotionally invested in climate change when the most powerful man in the world does not believe in it.
The United Nations’ Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth provides some disheartening figures on young people’s beliefs on climate change. 73% of surveyed youth said they feel the effects of climate change already. It is a testament to the surveyed young people’s optimism that 89% of youth respondents thought that they can make a change to the course of climate change. However 84% said they would need more information on how to confront it and only a lowly 9% of youths are ‘very confident’ the world will act quickly enough to address climate change.
Have no misgivings: these statistics are deeply, deeply worrying. If the generations tasked with looking after Earth in the future are already ambivalent about their ability to deflect the consequences of climate change, what chance does the planet have? Generations Y and Z were promised brilliant eco-friendly inventions growing up watching Blue Peter; they learned about renewable energy sources that would make fossil fuels obsolete in their GCSEs; they watched and read about the green homes of the future. But approaching the end of the second decade of the millennium, this eco–friendly vision has not materialised. The cars are not all electric, solar panels are not on every roof on every house and wind turbines are few and far between.
Instead they read that up to 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year, that sea levels are continuously rising and that rainforests are being chopped down at the rate of 13 million hectares per year. Perhaps it’s the uncompromising march of capitalism that is to blame – the lust for profit over everything trumping common sense. Perhaps it’s the desire for power making governments too myopic and insular to force real change, or perhaps it’s something else. Nonetheless attributing blame seems futile at this point, as young people are going to have to live with the legacy of older generation’s apathy for decades and centuries to come.
Aside from the lack of international action against climate change, young people have a lot to contend with domestically too. The United Kingdom cannot guarantee its young people affordable houses, jobs and soon not even the freedom to travel. It’s unfair to demand young people prioritise their environmental consciousness alongside the increasingly harder task of finding the money to live, but it seems to be necessary.
It’s too obvious to say ‘we need to do something about climate change’ now. The first response should be to engage young people – their indifference is not without cause but that shouldn’t mean that they can’t be inspired. Planet Earth 2 showcased the wonders of a world that seems so vulnerable, precious and almost alien at times but governments should harness David Attenborough’s passion and insight and apply it unto generation Y and Z. In 2015 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon claimed; “We are the last generation that can slow global warming before it is too late.” A chilling omen but the race has already begun, and millennials’ lack of engagement means we are already lagging behind.
Words by Ollie Sirrell