vrijdag, januari 28, 2022

Is this generation in need of a green empowerment movement?

A new age for sustainability and climate justice dawns. In an increasingly eco-conscious world, there are many challenges ahead for those who have a role to play in raising awareness and making a change. Naturally, IofC has boldly taken up this challenge and its Dutch branch (IofC NL) is no exception. The reason might seem evident: climate change affects (indigenous) communities worldwide, putting their well-being and livelihoods at risk. Therefore, we must pursue climate justice as a way of establishing a just and equal world.  

However, the impact of climate change transcends the deep inequalities between communities. After all, climate change poses an existential threat to humanity itself. This scenario brings up challenging questions. Is nature ‘striking back’ to our exploitation? Should we protect the environment, not for our sake, but for nature’s sake? More importantly, who plays a vital role in protecting nature? And how can we encourage them to make green choices? At IofC NL, we are looking for answers.

To us, it seems evident that the younger generation plays a role in paving the way for climate-justice. After all, today’s young adults are tomorrow’s decision-makers. But how do they feel about these assigned roles? In 2019, the Dutch news website NOS reported on the psychological effects as a result of climate change: ‘ecorexia’, ‘ecostress’, ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘eco-depression’. These are recently coined terms that indicate a sense of hopelessness and defeatism. Are these sentiments widespread amongst young adults?

We do not think so. During Buro EU, a green IofC NL initiative, we took to the streets of The Hague and questioned young adults on their views on climate change, sustainability, and the role of Europe in battling climate change. The interviewees, ranging from age 18 to 30, were very much interested in these topics. They universally emphasised the importance of sustainability and they believed that Europe should actively work towards climate conservation and protection. When we asked about their own sustainable lifestyle choices and beliefs, we encountered a certain ‘gap’ in their green knowledge. ‘Of course I want to make my way of living more sustainable’, an interviewee said. ‘But I’m not sure how.’

The ‘how’ question surfaced frequently during these street interviews. We found that young adults did not know how to individually contribute to a healthy environment, even though they were very much willing to do so. This observation served as the inspiration for IofC NL’s most recent green initiative Go Green! (Dutch: Doe Groen!), co-funded by the European Union.* During this initiative, IofC NL will team up with local students, jointly setting out to explore new perspectives on sustainability.  Go Green! aims to provide students with green tips and tricks, giving them the inspiration they need to make their lives more sustainable.

In October 2021, we kicked off this project at two local universities for applied sciences during the global sustainability week. We asked students to participate in IofC’s Sustainability Game, which was developed in collaboration with InHolland’s Creative Business students. Students were asked to participate in an interactive quiz that assessed their knowledge about sustainability. The game, which turned out to be quite a challenge for some students, led to some thought-provoking conversations.

One student told us with confidence that he had no interest in said topic, which he associated with veganism. ‘I am not interested in going vegan’, he said. ‘I absolutely love meat and I will continue to eat meat.’ His peers agreed with him. Despite their doubts, we convinced these students to play the Sustainability Game. Whilst playing, they learned that buying second-hand has a positive effect on the environment, more so than reducing one’s meat intake. The students were baffled by this fact. ‘This is surprising’, the meat-loving student told us. ‘I’m not going vegan, but I am willing to buy second-hand.’

For next year we have got some fun vegan cooking workshops in the works, but we will also visit green initiatives. Our next stop is Floating Farm in Rotterdam, a fine example of circular economy in practice. However, we will expand our focus beyond food and agriculture, also looking at initiatives for sustainable architecture (tiny houses), sustainable living (ecological housing projects), sustainable consumption (minimalism), and much more. With these visits, we want to show the students the endless possibilities for creative sustainability initiatives. We hope that these green insights will inspire them during their own professional and personal search for sustainability.

Go Green! is still in progress, but we can safely conclude that young adults are willing to contribute to a healthy environment. In fact, it seems that they are leading the way. We need to mention environmental lawyer and activist Jessica den Outer, who acted as a guest speaker during one of IofC NL’s Faith in Human Rights dialogues. According to Den Outer, nature is inherently deserving of rights. ‘After all, companies have legal rights too. So why should nature be excluded?’ She adds, ‘Nature might not have a voice, but never forget: you can always use yours.’

Will we see more young, eco-conscious professionals like Den Outer in the future? We believe so, but we also believe that we need a green empowerment movement to encourage and inspire these young adults. With our renewed focus on sustainability, we have happily taken on this challenge. It is time go green—together!

By Shereen Siwpersad.

*Go Green! is co-funded by the Dutch representation of the EU.