Stop saying that young people are the solution to climate change. We’re not.

I was speaking to a chief sustainability officer in the aviation industry at a conference recently, who told me that his career is 5 years from being over and, therefore, it will be up to my generation to make the big changes required to reduce the industry’s impact on the climate. I have heard similar things from many people in a number of different settings. I vehemently disagree with this sentiment and here’s why.

This is probably by far the most important decade for the future of our planet. To meet the climate targets necessary to prevent a larger climate catastrophe, we need to act now. We know this. We need climate leadership and new climate policies, at the company-, governmental- and even intergovernmental-level. But who are these leaders? If I am a “future leader”, as I have been labeled, when does that future become the present?

The average age of a world leader is somewhere between 55 and 65 years old. I am currently 24. When the current President of the United States was my age, the year was 1967 – my parents hadn’t even been born yet. By the time I am of the same age as the average world leader, the year 2050 will have come and gone – the year when a number of our current climate targets are due! If we are talking about who will actually make the required policy decisions within this decade, it certainly is not going to be my generation. We are not in a position of power to do so.

Now, of course I am not saying that we as young people are helpless. I can be an activist, I can protest, I can vote. I am able to make my voice heard, and I am doing my best to do so. But how much influence do I, a 24 year old MSc student, have on the policy decisions that matter? I fear not very much, and that is currently set to stay this way for many years to come. But this is also our future! I strongly believe that young people should be included in decision-making. And if we are talking about living with the consequences of climate change, it is also good to remember that with increasing lift expectancy, it is likely that those close to retirement now will experience that too.

Caring for our planet is a collective responsibility. I will do what I can, as should everyone. I am fed up with those currently in positions of power in companies and governments simply washing their hands of this and saying that young people can carry the torch since they care for the environment so much. 

I have no doubt that my generation will work hard to reduce humanity’s impact on the climate.

I just hope that we will get the chance.