Youth and the Climate Emergency

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Young People are a revolutionary force and have been at the forefront of many important social movements. Youth are playing a vital role in the climate movement today.  Ending the oppression of younger people is crucial to creating the massive, broad-based movement we need to stop the degradation of our environment and end the climate emergency. 

The oppression of young people and young adults stops adults from taking the leadership of younger people seriously. Unchallenged, it leaves many younger people with the incorrect idea that we are not smart or powerful. You can see the oppression in many school systems, where young people are told what to do at all times and given little space to take leadership or explore their own interests. 

Despite the oppression, young people and young adults have led many environmental and social-justice movements. Many older people have accumulated feelings of discouragement about making the wide, sweeping changes needed to limit the destruction of the environment. However, young people have had less time to accumulate discouraged feelings and can often remember human beings’ inherent connection to nature and to other humans. One can see this with young children—they are curious about the natural world and the people in it and they want to take action when they see something that is not right. 

Every person in the world either is a young person or was once a young person. This means that all of us have felt the effects of young people’s oppression. We can heal from the hurts, take our ideas seriously, and leave behind any discouragement or hopelessness about the climate emergency. It might be hard to do this, because when we tried as young people we were teased or ignored by the adults around us. However, by sharing our stories with one another, releasing the painful emotions, and taking action together, we can recover from the hurts. 

Adults who have given up on fighting environmental destruction and the climate emergency often see younger people as “the last hope.” At the same time, young people and young adults are not considered completely intelligent and capable and therefore not fully supported in our climate leadership. Adults need to fully support the leadership of young people and young adults, while working on their own initiatives in regard to the environment. 

We all need to heal from the effects of the oppression of younger people to be able to create a united movement to end the climate emergency and restore the environment. This is not quick or easy work. Many of us resist emotional work. We may think there isn’t time to do it. We may feel that we have been able to succeed in life only by not showing anyone how much we’ve been hurt. We may feel ashamed of or embarrassed by our feelings. We may have survived by numbing ourselves to the damage we carry and by assuming we will never be free of it. We may feel it would be unbearable to look at and to feel those feelings again. Perhaps this is because we have had no opportunity to tell our stories or have not been treated well when we have tried to tell them. 

In Sustaining All Life we have learned that it is possible to heal the mental and emotional damage from oppression, and we offer the tools to do this. By releasing distressed feelings about the oppression of younger people in a supportive network, we can grow evermore united, hopeful, thoughtful, joyful, and committed. Healing from the effects of the oppression of young people and young adults and supporting their initiative and leadership are vital steps to building a strong environmental movement.

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