We are living amongst the largest generation of young people in history; young people who are better educated, better informed and more widely connected than ever before. Around 42% of the world’s population is under 25 years of age, 25% are under 15 – that’s 1.8 billion. The largest group is in South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the median age is only 19, compared to 38 in America, and an ageing 45 in Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe.
This huge army of young people is cause for great optimism; they are more politically and socially engaged and certainly more environmentally aware than previous generations, are less conditioned by ideologies, and despite the widespread notion that anyone under 35 is self-obsessed and uncaring, in many cases they are the ones leading the global charge for change. They abhor dishonesty, don’t trust politicians and rightly believe that unity and tolerance of others are essential to right relationships and social harmony.
Many feel frustrated at the state of the world they have been born into, are angry with inept politicians and unaccountable international institutions, and enraged at the environmental vandalism that is taking place throughout the world. Anger and disillusionment has led to committed engagement among large numbers of young people throughout the world; they swell the ranks of the global protest movement forming the vanguard at demonstrations for action on climate change, demanding social justice and freedom, rational changes in US gun law and an end to austerity and economic injustice.
They formed the driving force behind what were arguably the two most significant social/political movements in recent years: the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, and whereas in the past young people have been less engaged than older generations in voting and party activism, this too is changing – in Britain, for example, the Labour party, with an overall membership of 504,000 – the largest in Europe, has over 100,000 members under 25, and they are extremely active.
As well as demonstrating, working on environmental campaigns and human rights issues the impulse to contribute to the local community is strong, and many act upon it: a survey made by the Royal Society of Arts in Britain found that a staggering “84 percent of young people want to help others,” and that “68 percent of young people have participated in volunteering or other forms of social action.” These statistics reflect the high level of social responsibility that exists in countries throughout the world amongst this generation. The study also revealed that whilst there is a strong desire to bring about large scale change, working locally to support someone in need – befriending, or helping an elderly person with their shopping for example – is recognized to be of enormous value.
It is a generation brought up with social media and, according to The Millennial Impact Project, they use it alongside traditional forms of participation. Millennial’s “interest in the greater good is driving their cause engagement today, and their activism (or whatever you want to call it) is increasing.”
Inspired and inspiring
Appalled by the level of inaction and the scale of the crisis, large numbers of young people have committed themselves to the environmental cause. One of the most inspirational forms of climate change activism is the Schools Strike for the Climate initiated by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg. Following a record-breaking summer, in August 2018 Greta began a solo protest for climate change outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Every Friday since, instead of going to school she sits outside her country’s parliament: she has vowed to “continue to do so until [world] leaders come into line with the Paris agreement [on climate change].”
Apathy is often disguised by arguments of individual inadequacy in the face of the scale of the problems confronting humanity. Well, a loud answer to such feeble excuses is Greta Thunberg’s one-girl protest; following her example hundreds of thousands of school children around the world have staged their own School Strike for the Climate. Although all teaching bodies should support the actions, some don’t, and whilst disappointing, their view is largely irrelevant, what matters is that teachers, along with politicians, big business and the general public pays attention to what these young people are saying: keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewables, live environmentally conscientious lives; it is our future you are destroying, act now before it’s too late.
The man-made environmental crisis is the result of a certain way of life, an approach to living that places enormous value on material wealth, on image, pleasure and success. It is, we are told, a ‘dog eat dog’ world in which only the ‘strong’ survive. This fear inducing view has polluted life, fuelling social division and widespread mental health conditions, particularly amongst under 25 year olds. In November 2017 the World Youth Parliament met in Beijing to discuss, ‘Interpersonal Relationships: Keys for a new Civilization’.
In their conference report they call for the creation of a kinder, friendlier society. They extol forgiveness, which they describe as the “most sublime and integral form of love” and make clear their view that the current “competitive culture (which places our goals against the goals of others) and the wrong use of technology” is detrimental to human well being. And they should know: as a result of the ‘competitive culture’ and the pressure to ‘achieve’ – in education, in a career and socially – unprecedented numbers of young people are suffering from anxiety and stress, panic attacks and depression, leading some to self-harm and suicide.
Despite being conditioned into competition by an outdated education system, which is designed to train compliant workers, not free-thinking creative individuals, young people instinctively recognize that cooperation, not competition is an integral part of human nature, and that working collectively for the common good is the best way of dealing with the many challenges facing humanity. It is in fact the only way we will overcome the various crises confronting us; unity is the way forward and young people know this.
The future belongs to the 3 billion or so under 25 year olds of the world, many of whom are inspired and inspiring. If we are to collectively overcome the challenges facing humanity we need to listen to what young people have to say, to draw on their energy and dynamism; they are in tune with the times, are overflowing with creativity and are a powerful voice for change.