Teens unite for the planet

Photo: katimavik.org
How Canadian youth are making green mainstream and creating some serious hope for the future.

It might be shocking news to some. Teenagers—those headphone-touting brooders so often viewed as lazy, irresponsible and disinterested in world issues—care about the environment. They really care, suggest the results of an Australian survey released earlier this week. More than 80 percent of 4000 teens surveyed are concerned for the environment, citing worries such as bushfires, climate change and animal extinctions at the top of the list. And two thirds of them believe that their government is too inactive on the green front.

A hop, skip and a hemisphere away, these sustainability sentiments are being echoed by Canada’s own generation of green-inclined teens. Canadian youth are concerned about the environment, and some are taking extraordinary steps to help out. Enter Simon Jackson, a B.C. youth who started a campaign to save the rare Spirit Bear at the age of 13. He founded Spirit Bear Youth (one of the world’s largest youth environmental organizations), has been featured in a CTV documentary and has even signed onto a Hollywood animated film deal. Or Alysia Garmulewicz, from B.C., who organized and directed the Canadian Youth Climate Change Conference (YC3) at 17 years old.

Here’s another: Colin Carter, a grade 10 Toronto student who recently released a documentary on climate change after being inspired by a class assignment. He called it Fight for the Planet, and he poignantly asks, “If we don’t … who will?”

Teen activism

This urgent sense of responsibility—to fight for their planet since no one else is (or, at least, not well enough)—stems from disillusionment with governments and older generations, whose inaction in the face of major environmental crises will surely affect teens’ futures.

As Greg Ross of the Sierra Youth Coalition explains, “Teens are realizing that they will be the ones having to deal with all the environmental problems left behind from the older generation, and they are not going to wait around and do nothing. Our government’s stewardship has been very weak and young people cannot trust or believe that the government will solve all the problems.  Canada used to be viewed as an environmental leader and now…we are heading in the wrong direction and young people do not want this to happen.”

It’s therefore time to put away the stereotypes of teens as apathetic and apolitical, says Jenn Savedge, author of the forthcoming The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen's Guide to Saving the Planet (New Society Publishers, 2009). And she cites Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as proof that “teenagers really can mobilize, their voices can be heard and they can really bring about change if they’re united around a cause they really care about.”

Teens today are uniting around the green cause, espousing Gandhi’s powerful message that “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” This change is loud and strong across the country. From large environmental youth groups, to eco-clubs in high schools, to individual initiatives, Canadian teenagers are making green mainstream. (See the resources section below for just some of the many examples.)

Tools of technology

The success of these green teen initiatives is due in large part to social media and networking. Facebook, MySpace, blogging and Twitter provide teen-led grassroots campaigns with a huge advantage, says Savedge. (Yes, those activities that keep teens holed up in their room for hours might actually be working towards the greater good).

As Jesse Jenkins of The Huffington Post writes, referring to the youth-driven Power Shift 2009 campaign for action against climate change: “The unprecedented, networked nature of this movement allows young activists across the country to connect with their peers…and grow in size and power faster than past movements.” Social networking allows youth activists from every corner of a country—no matter how far—to unite online, strengthen their offline organization and grow their green movements, he continues. And there are hundreds of eco-themed youth-driven Facebook groups to prove it.

Green today, greener tomorrow

Once infused with the green spark, and helped along by social media, there is no stopping teens’ success. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges along the way. One of the biggest barriers, according to all of Savedge’s young interviewees, is their youth! Teens with great green ideas are not always taken seriously at first because of their age. “It can be difficult to get the grants from sponsors, the support from politicians or the participation of communities,” says Savedge. Ross also agrees that “a lot of teenagers these days do not feel that adults take them seriously”. And yet they persevere—establishing prominent organizations like Teens Turning Green or the many Canadian for-youth-by-youth groups and campaigns.  

On the eve of the 39th anniversary of Earth Day, today’s teens seem to be living up to the words of Julia Butterfly Hill, a youth environmental activist famous for her 1997 tree live-in. She once said: “We are constantly told that we are the leaders of tomorrow… That’s a lie. We are the leaders of today.”

For more information on the resources available to youth who want to get involved in the environmental movement, visit these websites:

Organizations

Sierra Youth Coalition - Sustainable High Schools: teens transform their schools to green

Environmental Youth Alliance: west-coast programs and workshops for green teens

Canadian Youth Climate Coalition: making climate change issues a nationwide priority

Environnement Jeunesse: a Quebec-based group of eco-youth with many green projects

Programs

Otesha: youth (as young as age 13) cycle across the country to promote positive change

Katimavik Eco-Citizenship program: a 6-month all-expenses-paid environmental action and leadership program for youth (17 and up)  

Students on Ice: opportunity for Canadian youth to travel to Antarctica (14-19 years old)

Blogs, websites and networks

Inconvenient Youth

Obviously.ca

Planet Connect  

It's Getting Hot in Here

Roots and Shoots