Young people are our hope for a greener future

Young people are our hope for a greener future

This is the third in a short series of linked blogs exploring a key challenge ahead as governments and other decision-makers seek ways to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change in years to come: influencing lifestyle choices so that people live more sustainably. The blogs assume that things cannot go on exactly as before, that we need to do some things – perhaps a lot of things – differently. A second assumption is that, though there is much that needs to happen at the ‘macro’ level, we all have a part to play. This final blog evaluates a new grassroots campaign encouraging people to live a greener lifestyle. It ends by stressing the importance of education. Young people are our hope for a greener future. We need to be teaching them about the challenges that confront us, and about actions that we can all take to help secure a brighter tomorrow.

A third assumption is that we can’t push people too far too fast. Our recent blog about teenage girls and sport quoted research that divided the target population into three broad categories – passionate participants (let’s call them Group 1); those passionately ‘against’ (Group 2); and (Group 3 – and by far the largest group) those who might sign up but various things stop them from doing so. This seems a helpful, if broad brush, way to categorise the UK population in terms of their attitude to living more sustainably.

So how do we get people – the Group 3 types – to change or adapt their behaviour? One approach is offered by a new (self-described) grassroots movement called The Jump:

Taking ‘the Jump’

The Jump was created by a group of people who wanted to change the feeling of powerlessness that so many of us have when we think about the future of our world.

Normal people who wanted this to exist so we made it. Some are from environmental backgrounds but many are not. A mixture of parents concerned for their children’s futures, professionals ready to act, young people who’ve waited long enough, business leaders with an eye on the horizon and climate experts with new science in hand (including authors of the research behind the JUMP).

All the work, the website, videos, background, everything has been developed by volunteers and no corporate or political involvement or funding at any point. The JUMP is a grassroots movement, owned and shaped by those taking part.

from the website of The Jump

Read on and their message seems cleverly crafted: just six lifestyle changes that we are asked to adopt. That seems eminently achievable. Note, too, that people are encouraged to ‘take the JUMP’ initially for a limited period of time — it suggests one, three or six months — and that it’s okay not to keep to it 100%. Another sensible idea: don’t set overly demanding, unrealistic targets.

Then we get to the six lifestyle changes themselves:

  • Eat a largely plant-based diet, with healthy portions and no waste
  • Buy no more than three new items of clothing per year
  • Keep electrical products for at least seven years
  • Take no more than one short haul flight every three years and one long haul flight every eight years
  • Get rid of personal motor vehicles if you can – and if not keep hold of your existing vehicle for longer
  • Make at least one life shift to nudge the system, like moving to a green energy, insulating your home or changing pension supplier

Hmmm. Is this a set of lifestyle changes that most people will be prepared to adopt, even temporarily and knowing that it’s ‘okay’ to fall short? It seems that, for all the talk of ‘normal people’, The Jump will appeal almost exclusively to Group 1 types when it is Group 3 who need to be won over. Expecting people to (and I am deliberately exaggerating here to make a point) become largely vegetarian and stop buying new clothes and stop going abroad on holiday and give up their car(s) is unlikely to have mass appeal.

Persuading people will not be easy

Persuading the population to adopt a greener lifestyle is going to be one of the central political challenges of the coming years. Realistically, it can only happen gradually, step by step, over a significant span of time. Anything else will attract considerable, perhaps overwhelming, opposition and resistance.

I argued in the blog Problems with going green that people are unlikely to rush to swap their petrol and diesel cars for battery-powered models any time soon unless costs and inconvenience are minimised. And as I didn’t say, they are even less likely to abandon cars for public transport unless a cheap, clean, pleasant-to-use, extensive and reliable network is in place.

Yet even a gradualist approach is fraught with danger. I write this one day before the UK government’s spring financial statement, with the chancellor Rishi Sunak under intense political pressure to cut fuel duty by as much a five pence per litre. These are extraordinary times, of course – the continuing fallout from the Covid pandemic combining with the crisis in Ukraine and other things besides – and short-term action is urgently required to deal with the surge in the cost of living.

But this won’t be the last emergency – whether it is political upheaval, war, economic recession, or whatever. The long road to net zero is littered with difficult choices and incompatible objectives. Any reform or change with a cost attached is a headache for any politician or campaigner: the bigger the cost and greater the upheaval, the more intense the headache. The twin demands of political expediency and decisive climate action will come into conflict again and again.

Education must be part of the solution

There are no simple solutions, but education must be central to any long-term strategy. Life-Based Learning is predicated on the notion that children need to be learning about the climate emergency and other such challenges. But the aim is not to frighten or to spread a fatalist mindset. On the contrary.

The naturalist Sir David Attenborough was right to describe young people as “the great hope” for the future survival of the planet. Growing numbers of young people are concerned about the threat of climate change and the need to look after the planet. And, for obvious reasons, children and young people will find it far easier than adults to embrace many aspects of sustainable living.

That’s why we need to ensure that environmental education forms an integral part of the curriculum. LBL is about agency and empowerment, giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, and helping inspire them to take on the immense challenges the planet faces.

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Image at the head of this article by Denise Calvert from Pixabay.

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