Actions speak louder than words

By Graham Duxbury

| 21 February 2019

It's an interesting sign of the political times that two weeks after Environment Secretary Michael Gove urged young people - "as future stewards of our planet" - to get more involved in protecting the environment, several of his colleagues took to the airwaves to point out that children walking out of lessons to demonstrate the point should be seen as truants not strikers.

Of course, some adults are bound to take issue with the idea and usefulness of a ‘strike' by school pupils. In commenting on the Youth4Climate march a few also gleefully pointed to the ‘double standards' at play given the appetite of young people for power-hungry devices and fast fashion. 

The real story here though is about influence. How are young people meant to impact on the debate about the world they stand to inherit when they are bound by - and to some extent a creature of - a social and economic construct controlled by their parents, indeed by their grandparents if we factor in who casts most votes in elections. Direct action is an obvious step, and possibly the only way young people have of getting their voices heard.

However, direct action needn't just be about waving placards on the town hall steps. Now more than ever before, young people have the means and the tools to get organised and get active without waiting for their parents' permission. Harmful social media content and worries about excessive screen time have been dominant features in the news over recent weeks, but many young people point to the positive power these platforms can bring in terms of sharing ideas and planning practical action. Facebook is aiming to demonstrate this point by giving a team of young environmentalists the chance to work with a leading garden designer at the Chelsea Flower Show, and then using the exhibit as a focus for debate about how time online can bring about change in communities offline.

Holding back dangerous climate change needs action at all levels - political vision, a shift in the nature of our economy and the normalisation of ‘green' behaviours. Young people can - and must - drive this change. Some politicians may choose not to hear young voices, but smart business leaders know they need to take heed of the opinions of future customers, and only the young can make it cool to be connected to nature.

The announcements made last month by Michael Gove included funding to help more schools use the natural environment as a focus for learning and wellbeing thanks to a Resilience through Nature programme led by the Wildlife Trusts. The upshot of this should be more children questioning whether adults are doing enough to safeguard their future and taking practical action to change the world one green step at a time.

Graham Duxbury, national chief executive of Groundwork

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