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Eclectic Tools for Global Youth
Dawn Danby, 2 Jan 05

youthXcomp_web.jpg Much has been said about the aging of the global population, and its impacts on society. The current global youth, however, is a critical moving target - they need access to any emerging solutions that promise a more sustainable future. Youthxchange, an educational initiative from UNEP and UNESCO, puts it this way:

"Young people are a critical stakeholder in the global economy and will be the main actor and motor for change in the near future. The habit they develop now will play a decisive role in future consumption patterns. Their decisions as consumers exercise a growing influence on markets and lifestyles. Thus the energy, motivation and creativity of youth are essential assets to bringing about change."

In terms of taking young people seriously, I have to hand it to youthxchange, who've assembled a startlingly diverse collection of online resources - all written and designed without a lick of condescension. Having been generated by such large, bureaucratic entities, its eclecticism comes as a real surprise. Practically speaking, the site is set up for (english-speaking) educators, to introduce young people in urban areas to the notion of sustainable consumption (SC). (A 2.6MB pdf document is available here) Instead of a long list of institutional links, it's an interdisciplinary toolkit crammed with cultural resources, organizations and precedents, targeted at the half of humanity under 20 years old, 90% of whom live in developing countries.

"...although healthy eating, the sex trade or media literacy are not always considered strictly related to SC, the kit views them as significant factors in developing consumer awareness... youthxchange underlines how SC directly relates to quality of life, efficient use of resources (both human and natural), reduction of waste, and ethical issues such as child labour, animal welfare, fair trade and general equality.

WorldChanging readers will be familiar with some of its content and message - there are entries on Green Maps, BedZED, mobility in Curitiba, Brazil, and introductions to scientists working for global responsibility. Its sophisticated collection of practical and cultural entries includes examples of artwork by Lucy Orta, international family planning and eating disorder resources, descriptions of universal design and eco-efficiency, and even an introduction to Miyazaki's 'green heroes' in Japanese Manga.

Although the site's clearly still being built, it's more lucid and less self-serving than the World Bank's youthink! site, which on the surface appears to have a similar sort of mandate. Rather than cataloguing what what adults think young people ought to hear, youthxchange's developers have pulled together the arcane, the fascinating, and the positive - always a better way to hold a young person's attention.

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Wow! Lots of great stuff to read and pursue.

Of course, we ought not to lose sight of the fact that half the people on the planet, roughly, are under 30, and one third under fifteen.

This may be an aging planet, but it is still, even more so, a planet of the young.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 2 Jan 05

Oh, and I like this "don't waste your party" entry

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 2 Jan 05

Re: Jan 02 article "Eclectic Tools for Global Youth"
I dont see how viewing the worlds youth as consumers really helps anything. Ok for the moment it focuses attention on them and lifts them out of horriffic situations such as prostitution but for what? To become consumers so that they can again be reminded that their place in the world is not one of power or decision making but rather a passive role that supports the very powers that supress them (always in one form or another) and if it's not not them producing the goods that rich countries consume than who will it be? Surely someone else because we all know that someone has to make all those goods. And who will that someone be next?
Perhaps it would be time well spent developing ways to enable youth to make and trade their own goods, to build strength locally and develop ways to support that within the global economy.

Posted by: wendy on 3 Jan 05

Wendy -

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough: I'm not convinced that the site is intended to turn the desperately poor into rabid consumers, but rather to tackle the inevitable consumption habits of existing, and emerging consumers. Despite all discussion of aging and depopulation, the world's population is young, and is only projected to grow. On its own, Sustainable Consumption is a concept that attempts to deal with the reality of existing consumption, and the consequent ecological impact.

What's interesting about youthxchange is that it seems to be about educating young people about alternatives in employment choices, waste, politics - illuminating larger issues related to consumption, rather than simply providing a product catalogue.

The site seems to me to be an information portal only. Its audience has, by default, access to digital tools, a working knowledge of english, and some degree of education - readers won't represent a full spectrum of global youth, but they don't necessarily have to be concentrated in the west, either. In other words: practically speaking, while it's an unlikely place for child prostitutes to find freedom, other youth may benefit from knowing of such things. Educating the affluent (or those wealthy enough to be able to make significant consumption/employment/educational choices) about the impact of their decisions is important. The generation targeted by youthxchange will be making big decisions in short order, and we'd like them to be responsible ones.

One more note: UNEP and UNESCO are large organizations with plenty of initiatives aside from this one. You could spend days reading through it all.

Posted by: Dawn Danby on 3 Jan 05

I think this is highly problematic. As Alex indicates, about half of all people on this planet are "young" people, and the majority of them in the developing world.

Now it will take a gigantic (unrealistic) effort to persuade these people to change their consumption patterns, when all they seem to want in a first (destructive) phase, is to become "Western consumers" (or their image of what it means to be one of those).

My missionary aunt always told me: "you with your cross-cultural nonsense, you don't get it, do you? I've lived in Africa, and the only thing young mothers over there want, is a fridge, a husband with a car, and plastic toys for the kids. In every African hides a Westerner begging to come out."

I think I must agree on this. "Sustainable consumption" is a privilege for well off bourgeois urbanites in Western capitals, and this attitude is most often the last to reach the developing world.

Moreover, I think there's no reason why we should deny young people in developing countries the pleasure of consuming in unsustainable ways. Who are we to tell them to do otherwise?

And again, it's those groups we need to reach, since there are virtually no young people left in the old decaying region of Europe or Japan.

In short, I think the only realistic way to get there, is to have these young people experience unsustainability first hand, and to allow them to become bourgeois middle classers themselves, and only then, maybe, will they lend you an ear. Most other "pedagogic" attempts, so far, have proven to be highly unsustainable themselves.

Posted by: lorenzo on 3 Jan 05

Thanks for this!

The New American Dream (
points us in the direction of a similar effort between that organization and WWF: their "Be Different, Live Different, Buy Different — Make a Difference" youth spending campaign (


Posted by: Elizabeth on 3 Jan 05

What I came away from visiting the Youthxchange website was that they are trying to transform the consumption habits of the world's youth by changing the consumption patterns of the richest youth.

One of the entries made mention of the fact that a small percentage of the world's youth set the trends for the rest of the world's youth. Whether or not they have the resources, these trends determine what they strive for.

Posted by: Bryan Koen on 4 Jan 05



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