The kids are all right | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: The kids are all right

Today's university students will have to deal with increased smog-alert days, clear-cut forests, nuclear waste, overfished marine ecosystems, and other environmental problems that older folks have created (Credit: Penn State via Flickr).

By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

The 21st century is an exciting time for young people. Technology like email and social networking websites makes connecting with people easier than before, and Google puts a virtual library on everyone's desk. This current generation of youth has unprecedented exposure to knowledge. And the old adage that knowledge is power still holds true.

I've been approached by different groups to talk to young people at universities this month. I'm speaking at campuses across Canada, either in person or by video, on a tour with the Canadian Federation of Students, about global warming and its solutions. My daughter Severn and David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson are also speaking at some stops. I'll also speak to young people in Ontario as part of a campaign called Flick Off, which is encouraging people to consider renewable energy as a solution to some of the serious environmental and economic problems our dependence on fossil fuels has created.

Whenever I talk to students, I'm reminded of the joy I experienced as a college student, surrounded by intellectually curious classmates who were also forming their opinions about the world. Public interest in the environment is at an all-time high today, and that's bound to affect the values students form and the choices they make as they go through life. Attending college is an exciting phase of life, and students should be encouraged to question the way things are and consider the way they could be.

But I don't envy today's students, even though they have great new gadgets such as iPods and digital cameras to play with. They are seeing the effects of global warming first-hand. They can see the mess that previous generations have created by ignoring the natural world and living beyond its limits. Today's university students will have to deal with increased smog-alert days, clear-cut forests, nuclear waste, overfished marine ecosystems, and other environmental problems that older folks have created.

In my college days, I was active in the civil-rights movement. The opportunity to right historic wrongs was a powerful incentive. The people I marched with took action and eventually helped change society and repeal discriminatory laws. Is there still racism and bigotry today? Absolutely. But things have certainly improved since the 1950s.

Back then, many things seemed divided. There were the activist organizations full of young, energetic people demanding change. Then there were older, established groups that constantly seemed to say, "We agree with you, in principle, but..." to any arguments put forth in favour of equal laws for all. Thankfully, things evolved and eventually the excuses for inaction melted away.

I see parallels with the battle against global warming. I hope we are entering a new era in which the old excuses for inaction are no longer given any credence — and students become active in solving some of the serious problems in the world. There's evidence that this is already occurring. Renewable energy is a very realistic part of the solution, not only to environmental problems but to economic difficulties as well, and I think young people can play a major role in pushing for a switch from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewables.

It's heartening to see the number of people saying "yes" instead of "no" to topics such as energy conservation and renewable power. And it's a diverse group. If there is one positive thing to come out of global warming's threat to humanity, it's that it's bringing together different factions to work together for change.

In the not-too-distant past, environmentalists were treated as a "special interest group" and relegated to the fringes of public discourse. But now we're starting to see organizations as diverse as student groups, major corporations, technology companies, Crown corporations, and financial institutions talking to each other to find solutions to issues such as climate change. The environment may continue to be a "special interest," but it's one that concerns us all.

Today's young people know this. And it's interesting to see them use the tools at their disposal, such as email, blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites, to become online activists. Combined with individual actions, this is a powerful way to call for change at all levels of society.

When I see the energy of today's youth, I'm inspired. Although they haven't learned all the answers to climate change yet, they haven't learned all the excuses, either.

October 10, 2008
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2008/10/the-kids-are-all-right/

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