By Anna da Costa, featured on Worldwatch Institute, Eye on Earth, www.worldwatch.org
A movement is under way - a movement that is rippling across the globe. It's the youth movement on climate change, and it is rapidly gaining steam. As the international climate change talks take place this December in Copenhagen, negotiators will hopefully hear not just the words of politicians, but also the voices of those whom this generational crisis will affect the most.
More than 50 years ago, when he was asked, "What is development?," Indian leader and freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi replied: "I want to remove each and every tear from each and every eye in the country." I recently joined a group of 24 fellow youth in Delhi, where we were reminded of these sage words by Kabir, a deep-thinking student with a rippling laugh.
The group of 25 youth from across India had convened to map out a strategy for addressing the climate crisis, both nationally and internationally, over the coming year. The definition of development was just one of many topics discussed as we shared visions for the India we wish to see.
Less than two years ago, India had no youth representation at the United Nations international climate conference in Bali, Indonesia. This was despite the fact that people under the age of 35 comprise a stunning 70 percent of India's population - a population that represents 13 percent of humanity.
Last December, however, the first-ever Indian youth delegation participated in a high-level UN climate meeting in Poznan, Poland, with the Indian government inviting two of the members to attend as part of the official delegation. Their presence there symbolized the start of a bold new network, the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN), launched to unite India's youth on tackling climate change and to provide them with a voice both at home and abroad.
Founded on March 3, 2008, the network has already expanded to include almost 300,000 young people across India, with a presence in 15 states. Along with sending the first-ever Indian youth delegation to a climate conference, the IYCN has engaged in a string of exciting activities. These include a national Youth Summit on Climate Change in Hyderabad in August that drew more than 150 young people, a campus climate-challenge program that engaged 50 different university campuses, and more than 50 climate leadership presentations in 12 states. Most recently, the network launched a "climate solutions" road tour across India in solar-electric cars to showcase, document, and celebrate the innovative solutions to climate change that exist across India, and to support and catalyze their wider uptake.
Change is afoot, and it is not just Indian youth who are coming together on this issue. Across the world, a global movement for change is gaining force and numbers fast. The U.S. capital city of Washington, D.C., recently saw 12,000 youth convene for Powershift, one of the largest climate actions in history. The event led to the shutdown of the U.S. Capitol's coal plant, which partially powers Congress, and to a spontaneous march of 1,000 to the front door of the White House.
Youth networks and coalitions are coming together in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, India, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Vietnam, and across Europe. We will see further Powershifts in Australia in June and the UK in September, with youth convening en masse at the upcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December to push for the protection of what is non-negotiable: our safe future.
Youth across the world are finding cohesion around the most challenging, soul-searching issue facing our generation and future generations. They are coming out in force to support and cajole governments around the world to equitable, ambitious, and effective action.
In India, a subcontinent where more than 500 million people still literally live in the dark, lacking access to electricity, adequate education, health care, or sustained employment, it is without doubt that addressing the climate crisis is about far more than simply tackling emissions. The greatest irony is that it is these very poorest people who will be hit first and hardest by climate change impacts.
As was reiterated at the youth gathering last weekend, however, it should be not only possible to integrate a climate response with sustainable development, but an imperative, especially to safeguard the future of the impoverished.
India has an opportunity to follow a different, cleaner path of development - to question its end goal and to hold onto and revive the transformative values it has imbued for centuries. To take this cleaner path, though, India and other developing nations will require the cooperation, action, empathy, and collaboration of stakeholders from both across the country and around the world, on a scale never before seen.
This is where the efforts of India's youth will continue to focus, working as a network together with individuals, NGOs, corporations, and policymakers to catalyze both the bottom-up sharing of solutions through education, research, awareness raising and direct action, as well as a top-down dialogue with local, national, and international policymakers.
Speaking about IYCN's activities moving forward, Chaitanya Kumar, the group's coordinator for Hyderabad, said, "You can see the importance of and need for the network based on what has already been achieved over the last year. It is only a matter of time before things fall into place and the structures that were discussed in this meeting start taking shape."
But what of the dialogue among youth from different nations? This is one of the most beautiful parts of the growing story. It seems that enough love can't go around as youth unite toward this common cause. Casper ter Kuile, co-director of the UK Climate Coalition formed earlier this year, described his experiences as follows:
"Not only has there been a two-way sharing of information and knowledge on how to set up and mobilise youth networks, there has been a sharing of funds and technologies too. The Australian and Indian networks offered us strategy documents, written materials, weekly calls and website coding; the Canadian and American coalitions are sharing finances; and youth from the global North are fundraising so that those from the global South can attend Copenhagen."
Ter Kuile recently spent a week with U.S. youth climate leaders at Powershift, learning how to apply the same model of action to the UK. "There has been such a generosity of spirit from all sides, a real collaboration, trust and openness towards one another," he noted. "It has been a hugely rich experience to work with someone from the Democratic Republic of Congo on one side and from Peru on the other, and to know that we are working towards a clean and just energy future. It is an unspoken bond between us all."
IYCN Hyderabad coordinator Kumar added, "One can see a strong global coalition forming that is beyond boundaries and varied interests. It is set to keep growing, and I don't see the political deadlocks between nations affecting the youth and their actions. Thanks to technology, new links are being forged and fellow counterparts are being acknowledged across the planet."
Hearing these comments, I find myself asking: What is it that characterizes "youth," and what can youth really bring to the table? Aside from having a large stake in our inherited future, perhaps it is a boldness to believe that anything is possible, a faith and optimism in the power of each individual to make change happen, an ability to look at long-answered questions with new eyes, a capacity to forgive and to listen with both heart as well as the head, a conviction to ask the questions no one else will ask and say the things no one else will say, and a power to mobilize and communicate to a large number of people en masse.
Most importantly, however, youth is a quality present within all of us, whatever our age, if we choose to imbibe it.
I came across the following beautiful description of the recent Powershift event in Washington, posted by Gary Houser, a youth activist from the Ohio coal country:
"Throughout this jubilant day, there was a palpable sense of a psychological line being crossed which has had a parallel in all great movements for nonviolent social change. It is the moment when a movement becomes aware that it is tapping into the immensely strong and unstoppable power of truth. It is a time of spiritual awakening, when seekers of change suddenly realize they have unleashed an infinite force far beyond the strength of any individuals - what Gandhi referred to as ‘satyagraha.' It is comparable to those moments in time when the peasants of India understood that an entire British empire could be defied, and bus riders in Montgomery, Alabama realized that racism was not in reality an immovable fact of life."
"The action in DC yesterday was more than a display of youthful exuberance. It was an aligning of this movement with the power of that truth. It was a moment for genuine celebration. While the battle has not yet been won, what was witnessed yesterday by those of us fortunate enough to be there may well have been a genuine turning point. The moral authority of our movement is now in the ascendancy, while that of the coal industry is in rapid decline."
Could we be reaching a different kind of tipping point?
Anna da Costa is a research fellow with Worldwatch in New Delhi. To find out more about the IYCN, visit www.iycn.in, www.indiaclimatesolutions.com, and www.whatswiththeclimate.org. To learn more about the Global Youth Movement and how to get involved, visit http://issues.tigweb.org/climate, www.youthclimate.org, and www.climatecrisiscoalition.org.
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