Yes, children are the future, but if you are still here tomorrow, you are also part of the conversation
We’ve heard it many times. Children are the future. And sure, that is something we can all get behind. However, it only tells part of a story when it comes to an environmentally elevated world.
I have the good fortune of attending many talks with inspiring thought leaders and organizations, sharing their work on a range of topics including: plastics in the sea, wildlife trafficking, organic farming, ecological design, sustainable fashion, circular systems, the list is extensive.
Without fail, at some point during the presentation the audience (which in my case is usually comprised of adults) is told that there is hope on the horizon – in the form of today’s youth.
At this point I raise my hand.
Clapping from the sidelines
Before anything else, a disclaimer. I love children. I love old people. I love people at all stages of the life cycle. Heck, I love the whole circus that is humanity, in all its magnificent and broken glory. And perhaps the fact that I don’t have children (my piece on being child free for Ariana magazne) makes me particularly responsive to pinning hopes on them.
My hand raising question is this: while I have high hopes for the humans of the future, what are those in the room doing to contribute to the challenges happening on OUR watches today?
Raising mindful and engaged children is certainly a big part (and responsibility) that parents undertake, but where does that leave everyone in the here and the now, when it comes to contributing a world that is worthwhile? By the time Tommy, Tamira and Thandi are old enough to influence policy, vote with their dollar, and lead enterprises, how much will be have lost?
We are transforming the planet’s land and today 24% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are driven by human activities in forestry and agriculture. We are buying more clothing than ever before. According to the documentary The True Cost the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount consumed just two decades ago.
Every day every single one of us is shaping the story of tomorrow. Why are children poles for our flags of hope? How are you and I, socially, financially, psychologically and emotionally contributing to the environmental challenges on a daily basis? My concerns around the children are our hope tagline has a few layers.
The children born today are not necessarily born “eco activists” rather, they have come into a world where they sense they can’t count on those around them to make meaningful change. Consequently they roll up their sleeves and get on with it.
I saw this first-hand on a youth leadership course in Borneo I was part of in 2017. Invited to help guide the teenagers on the weeklong workshop, and what quickly became apparent is that today’s children are born ready.
I interviewed a then 17 year old Melati Wijsen who, with her sister Isabel, started their Bye Bye Plastic Bags project on their home island Bali in 2013. At the time I was struck by how structured their team was, the level of accountability, and Melati’s poise and clarity.
Later that year the pair spoke at the United Nations World Ocean Day in New York City, and they were named two of the 25 Most Influential Teens of 2018 by Time magazine. Melati went on to star in the 2019 documentary Bigger than Us produced by actress Marion Cotillard.
It doesn’t take this level of impact to appreciate the today’s youth are focused and capable. And they are certainly not the first generation to grow up with activism on their minds.
However, when public and private discourse leans a little too heavily on what children may or may not achieve in climate change terms, it makes me uncomfortable. They didn’t cause this situation, why are many of those who keep the system going clapping on the sidelines for them?
Kicking the can down the road
When we marvel at the wonder of what children can do, have we given up on taking initiative in any of the age groups we find ourselves in? As if we have decided to “sit this round out” passing the buck to whoever’s next in line. Oh well, next time! Is the silent message, under nervous smiles.
By placing so much expectation and weight on one generation, we simultaneously overlook and exclude others. Take The Elders for example. An international non-governmental organisation of public figures noted as elder statesmen, peace activists, and human rights advocates, they were brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007. Describing themselves as “independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights” imagine how the environment could benefit from that mindset.
It is my hope that we all create opportunities to get everyone to feel part of the change and the solutions, through inclusion and innovation. Inclusion in relation to age, gender, race, and economic background.
Wouldn’t you are the future feel a lot more engaging? It would also be a lot closer to the truth.