The Greta Thunberg Effect: why Young People are Essential in the Fight Against Climate Change

30th September 2019

As Greta Thunberg’s words stood defiantly on the inescapably large screens at Reading Festival, one couldn’t help but feel a devastating urgency. It was Thunberg’s essay set to the ambient music of the band, The 1975. The crowd was waiting with bated breath for every word. When the final words flashed in perilous neon yellow, the crowd roared in agreement: now is the time to rebel.

Climate change conferences are focusing on youth mobilisation, and it’s undeniable that Thunberg has been a key player in increasing this engagement. As we frantically search for a way to prevent reaching the critical 1.5 degrees of warming, conferences are trying to involve more young people in the conversation about our own self-preservation. The NYC Climate Week (September 24-30) is hosting over 30 events as a part of their Youth and Climate Activism programme. In preparation for the UN Climate Action Summit, Secretary-General António Guterres is holding a Youth Climate Summit two days before. It appears that everyone is recognising the power of young people, and it’s all thanks to Thunberg.

Young people are our greatest hope for survival.

Young people are our greatest hope for survival. In the U.S. alone, 71% of people aged 18-29 believe climate change is a threat, compared to half of Americans aged 50 and older. This age gap in climate change beliefs means that activists are now targeting younger people for action, as we are the most likely to understand the impending nature of the environmental crisis. Youth climate strikes are also responsible for a growing awareness of the emergency in the UK. At the Net-Zero climate change conference held in Oxford, UK shadow secretary of state for international climate change Barry Gardiner MP couldn’t help but admire the power of movements like Extinction Rebellion (ER) and youth climate strikes. Young people and ER, according to Gardiner, have ‘absolutely transformed… the way in which politicians are approaching the issue of climate change… We change things because we’re no longer talking about climate change, we’re talking about the climate emergency.’

Yet despite all the action being taken, keyboard warrior mentalities aren’t going to solve global warming. Awareness is not enough; action is the strongest solution. Climate change must occur through institutional decisions – especially given the voting record of current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who has consistently voted against measures to prevent global warming.

Awareness is not enough; action is the strongest solution.

Putting pressure on governments to make systemic changes will contribute enormously to addressing our climate emergency. The BBC also suggests divesting funds out of environmentally harmful companies and activities, such as fossil fuel companies. This is especially useful if you’re thinking of opening an ISA and looking for investment strategies, whilst providing governments with the economic incentive to act. 

Greta Thunberg should not be the only person in the conversation – we need to do our bit. It has never been easier to get involved, and this is essential in preserving the future for ourselves and the generations to come.

By Alexandra Rigotti

Image by Kip Loades

This article can be found, among others, in our Welcome Edition of The Mondial, which is to be distributed at the Durham University Freshers Fair, Thursday 3rd October.