We often hear the calls of politicians all over the world to “protect the environment for our children“. Generation Z has more to lose than anyone else in this climate crisis yet hasn’t seen themselves in any of the decisions made by authorities worldwide. But they are taking action in making a more sustainable future for themselves. 

Amid countless future life scenarios, probable or improbable, the undeniable fact is that the future of the world is all about technology. Being savvy with the internet and technological gadgets is a common strength that most youngsters share. Gen Z moves with the development of technology platforms, turning social networks into a part of their lives; from entertainment and study to connections at work. But not only that, this generation cares more about the environment, overwhelmingly supports sustainable values, and has a continuous desire to improve their living conditions. Conscious of their future, they are clear about their contribution to the world through actions; opting for eco-friendly products and finding new solutions for a green lifestyle. All of this contributes to their creativity dedicated to building a sustainable future that their generation will benefit from. 

Today, the ocean has become a dumping ground for plastic waste. Our forests, or “green lungs” of the Earth are continuously burned and degraded. Resources are depleted at an alarming rate. A sustainable future with green values has become a prospect that many people from the younger generation wish to see unveiled in the upcoming years. 

Many debates argue that environmental recovery must start from restricting production activities. But the reality is much more complex; environmental issues will not be resolved by merely impairing economic growth. Beyond initial trade-offs, the sustainable future will have to balance economies, the environment, and social needs in the long run.

Circular economy is becoming an inevitable trend to meet the requirements of sustainable development in the context of increasingly degraded and depleted resources, polluted environment, and fierce climate change. The economical model not only reuses waste – and considers waste as a resource – but forms a connection between economic activities in a pre-calculated manner, forming a cycle in the economy. It can keep the material flow in use for as long as possible, restoring and regenerating products and materials at the end of each production or consumption cycle. 

Youth Climate Activism

The young people of Gen Z are open-minded, creative, and ready to contribute to combating social issues, especially when it comes to the environment. For them, sustainability is not just a bandwagon but a lifestyle that needs to be shaped, pursued, and spread throughout communities. It is easy to come across sustainable environmental projects initiated by students, from YouTube channels calling for green living and groups that promote sustainable fashion, to mobile applications that measure air quality. Young people always look for opportunities to voice their thoughts on sustainable development, keenly aware that having the courage to share is the first step to making the sustainable future a reality. 

This is clearly evident when thousands of youth made their way to this year’s COP26 event, including Rail to the COP, a group of young environmental activists who arrived in Glasgow by train via Amsterdam to exert pressure for immediate action at the negotiating table. They however, did not have much faith in the actions of world leaders going in. “Politicians will not achieve the goals that they have set out in the Paris Agreement, they will not be able to keep a warming degree at 1.5C,” said Johnny Dabrowski, an 18-year-old activist from Warsaw, Poland said to AFP.

sustainable futurePeople participate in a protest rally during a global day of action on climate change in Glasgow on November 6, 2021, during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference.(Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP)

In India, 22-year-old Disha Ravi is also looking for a way to fight climate change – a crisis that has turned her life upside down. She first had access to the Internet when she was 18, in which she used to learn more about the reasons for water scarcity and floods in Mangalore, where she lived. This led to her decision to join the “Fridays for Future” movement in India as an environmental activist. In early 2021, she was found guilty by the local authorities for sharing a document with Greta Thunberg’s tweets about an Indian farmer protest. As a result, Disha’s passport was seized and was unable to fly to Scotland for COP26. Even so, Disha’s goal hasn’t changed: she wants to draw global attention to the issues faced by young people in Global South countries. 

This is not the first time the world witnessed young people fighting for the environment. But this time, Generation Z firmly holds in their hands a weapon not available to their predecessors; the internet allows like-minded people to get together in massive numbers, gather petitions and collect millions of signatures, while accessing scientific research with just a few clicks. Today’s youths are reading, connecting, demanding transparency and policy changes from those who are in power.  Despite no youth representatives being invited to this year’s COP26, their voices were keenly heard by key leaders like never before.

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Youth Climate Solutions and Innovations

We are in a race against time to prevent a climate catastrophe and the young generation have taken up on themselves to help solve the crisis and alleviate environmental problems through “green” initiatives and innovations. Here are just some of the many examples:

sustainable future, dezeenImage by: Dezeen

Instant noodles are renowned for their low cost and convenience, but it comes with a significant environmental cost: the plastic packaging takes up to 80 years to decompose. 

Holly Grounds, a product design student at Ravensbourne University London, came up with a brilliant alternative for instant noodle packaging. She combines potato flour, glycerin, and water to produce a biofilm with a plastic coating that is also infused with specific spices for the instant noodles. By pouring hot water over it, the biofilm dissolves into a sauce and helps eliminate at least two single-use plastic packaging. 

sustainable future, Graviky LabsAnirudh Sharma and his team have developed a device that can capture air pollution at its source; once collected, they turn the soot into ink. Image by: Graviky Labs

At the forefront of carbon-free ink production is an Indian startup named Graviky Labs, founded by Anirudh Sharma. The company has developed KAALINK technology, a filter device that helps collect soot released from the exhaust pipe of a car, chimneys, or generators. 

The resulting gas will undergo many processes to remove heavy metals and carcinogens contained in carbon black. The final product can then be used to produce various inks and paints. Although the principle might sound complicated, it takes just 45 minutes of emission collection to produce enough ink for a pen. 

sustainable futureImage by AnaElise Beckman, Alexandra Cohn, and Michael Zaiken/Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

To solve the increasing need for alternative energy sources, three students from the University of Wisconsin, Madison have been searching for a solution to power lightbulbs without electricity. They discovered a type of luminescent bacteria attached to the squid’s body that can emit blue light, began collecting bacteria and cultivated them to put into bulbs. 

The lightbulbs are fed with nutrients from microorganisms or foods such as soy sauce, sugar, and fermented vegetables, which allows them to glow endlessly. Above all, no electricity is used, and can be disassembled and moved easily. The lamp has a capacity of about 10.68 Watt and can illuminate within a 68 meters radius. However, its power is not fixed as it is influenced by the number of bacteria present in the lamp. In other words, the more bacteria are produced, the greater the lamp power will be.

Anyone, Anywhere Can Make A Difference

In a study that surveyed more than 8,000 young people aged 18–35 from 23 countries, including Vietnam, Brazil, India, Kenya, and the UK, found that 75% of respondents have some kind of coping strategies when dealing with climate change issues in their communities, but 69% have never participated in any kind of climate action due to multiple restrictions.  

Most young people do not have confidence that their country’s leaders have the ability to tackle climate change and are concerned that the voices of women and minorities are not being heard when shaping climate change policies of the country. 

They also feel that they can develop more innovative, broader-reaching, and effective ideas to tackle climate change, yet they do not have the opportunity to do so. Many young people still have difficulties accessing the internet and all digital resources of their peers, and lack opportunities for training and skill development. Hierarchies in social culture also make it difficult for them to participate in decision-making when it comes to such issues.

But now the movement is getting stronger than ever before, and the line between local restrictions and international freedom of expression has become blurred. When COP26 was delayed in 2020, the world’s youth did not rest and instead organised a separate conference called MOCK COP26 to maintain the pressure of climate change actions. 

These efforts may seem small, but young people become more vocal on climate issues, making an impact by raising awareness through their actions in their local communities, and help shaping a sustainable future. 

Featured image by: © Jörg Farys / Fridays for Future