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The transformation which is to occur in the functioning of society will certainly depend to a great extent on the effectiveness of the preparations the youth make for the world they will inherit. – The Universal House of Justice, letter to the youth of the world, 1985.
In a recent report “The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet”, the U.N. Secretary-General states “Young people will be the torch bearers of the next sustainable development agenda through 2030.”
Why does this “sustainable development agenda” emphasize youth? And more specifically, why should youth take on a strong role in action on climate change?
First, among all people alive today, the adverse impacts of climate change will most affect the young, who will face the impacts of climate on society more than anyone else. Extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, strong storms, and floods will continue to gradually worsen as the planet warms. Sea level rise, often combined with stronger storm surges, will displace increasing numbers of people from Small Island States and low-lying coastal areas in the next decades. In addition to these direct impacts, the changing climate will exacerbate many social problems such as food insecurity, conflicts over natural resources, especially freshwater, and the challenges of assimilating huge numbers of refugees.
Second, The United Nations recognizes that young people are especially capable of change and transformation. The world will need a fundamental change in almost everything we do to avoid worst-case scenarios of climate change. We must, on a global level, significantly and quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by entirely transforming how we produce energy, how we grow our crops, and how we transport ourselves. This requires a profound change of mind and heart, best accomplished among the young.
Third, our minds need to grasp the reality that unlimited economic growth cannot happen forever on a finite planet, and that our current culture of consumerism drastically disrupts the balance of nature, possibly destroying the foundation for human life on Earth. To resolve this crisis, our hearts must become the propelling motivation for changing our culture. With love for nature–God’s creation–and for our fellow human beings, we will be able to transcend our personal and national self-interests. The changes required range from developing a new understanding of our purpose in life, of our relationship with nature and other human beings to many practical actions such as lifestyle changes and promoting social change toward environmental sustainability and justice.
Often, older people are more set in their ways; it’s more difficult for them to change habits they have cherished for decades, and to adopt new perspectives. Youth possess a spirit of adventure and enterprise, openness, eagerness, optimism, and vitality. The world needs these qualities to bring about courageous change.
The Baha’i Faith offers youth hope for the future, and encourages young people to express these qualities in a life of service:
The key to resolving these social ills rests in the hands of a youthful generation convinced of the nobility of human beings; eagerly seeking a deeper understanding of the true purpose of existence; able to distinguish between divine religion and mere superstition; clear in the view of science and religion as two independent yet complementary systems of knowledge that propel human progress; conscious of and drawn to the beauty and power of unity in diversity; secure in the knowledge that real glory is to be found in service to one’s country and to the peoples of the world; and mindful that the acquisition of wealth is praiseworthy only insofar as it is attained through just means and expended for benevolent purposes, for the promotion of knowledge and toward the common good. …Thus will they prove immune to the atmosphere of greed that surrounds them and press forward unwavering in the pursuit of their exalted goals. – The Universal House of Justice, 2 April 2010.
Overcoming that “atmosphere of greed” has become essential for reducing global warming and avoiding the catastrophic effects of climate change. Such goals express the purpose of our lives, namely the spiritual development of our souls and contributing to the advancement of society. Of course, everyone should be concerned about climate change. Older people have much wisdom and valuable experience to share and many have a deep commitment to social change. Climate-change mitigation requires collaboration among all ages and all nations.
Young people can take an important first step for meaningful action by learning more about the issue. Fortunately, many good books and resources exist, but some people are a bit intimidated by the complexity of the climate change issue. Global warming has multiple causes and numerous devastating impacts on the climate and on society—and if you’re young, you’ll want to take the steps now that will allow you to deal with the issue in the future.
The Wilmette Institute offers an online course on climate change starting March 1. The course provides a basic introduction to the science of climate change, explores its environmental and social disruptions, covers practical actions each of us can take to mitigate it, and discusses spiritual principles and ethical values that must guide our efforts. The course is designed for all ages and conducted in an interfaith spirit. If you want more information or want to register. To receive a $30 discount, use the discount code BT30.