A word to global leaders preparing for COP15: Pay attention to the youth. Few stakeholders out there have as pure an interest in finding viable, attractive solutions for a livable, sustainable, globally replicable future as the world's young people.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of presenting some Worldchanging ideas at the Bright Green Youth camp in Sonderborg, Denmark. The event was essentially a 4-day crash course in cross-cultural solution seeking, and it drew more than 200 high school-age participants from around the globe. Bright Green Youth contacts in each individual country selected their youth delegates, often through a competition in which the teens submitted videos, presentations or other project ideas for addressing climate change.
I'll talk a little about the camp, because the resources that went into it are a testament to the initiators' respect for their young participants. The process and learning philosophy, designed by educators at MS ActionAid Denmark were deep and well considered, with great attention paid to tools for cross-cultural understanding and communication. Artists from Copenhagen's Bigger Picture gave daily drawing/visual storytelling lessons, and created pictorial documents of each full day of the conference (I was psyched to be turned into a cartoon, at left!).
The first project workday kicked off with guest lecturers: I presented on what it means to think like an innovator in the face of climate change, and was honored to share the stage with humanitarian photojournalist Jakob Dall and interaction designer Vinay Venkatraman. For the two full days of project development that followed, the kids were given access to a pool of talented professional facilitators and a battery of coaches who were experts in their respective fields of technology, design, science and communication. And the camp began and ended with massive fanfare, from an opening reception featuring Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik, and a closing celebration with a live band at science experience park Danfoss Universe.
Being a pragmatist, I really appreciated the camp's project-based focus (according to the PR, that's why they chose to call it a camp and not a conference). The kids had an intentionally broad mission: to create original proposals for practical, actionable products and services that address problems associated with climate change. Their constraints: they had two days in which to do the bulk of the work, they were working in large teams of people with very different backgrounds and skill sets (and they were communicating within those teams in English, which for many of them was a second language). Daunting challenges, to be sure … but of course the urgency of the real crisis will require speed and similarly difficult collaborations.
I helped coach a few of the teams as they developed their proposals. Concepts ran the gamut, from luxury eco-buses designed to overcome the bus stigma and tempt people away from private vehicles; to an emergency community cooling shelter designed to combat heat-related deaths in Delhi; to an online community aimed at connecting innovators to one another so that one person's great idea in his or her community could be discussed, shared and replicated in communities around the world. During the last day of the camp, the kids themselves selected the proposals among them that they felt were most actionable, and engaged in strategy sessions with entrepreneur advisers to develop plans for taking those ideas from concept to reality. The four proposals that emerged with the most peer support were presented by their creators to an international adult panel, and will eventually be shared with Danish government officials at COP15.
Photos (above and top right): Jakob Dall
As I told the teens at Bright Green Youth, one thing that sets this generation apart from its predecessors is the recent explosion of information and new ways of documenting and measuring the problem. We're getting smarter about translating global trends in the natural world into data that can be consumed by an audience of non-scientists: the breakthroughs in the past decade in valuing ecosystem services (and loss thereof) is one example of how we're finding new ways to interpret the numbers, and the result seems to be an unending torrent of bad news. But because of this, these kids don't doubt there is a problem. And –- mostly because they're still young –- they're starting to imagine solutions from a place of optimistic curiosity that doesn't assume the status quo of politics and corporate rule.
Most impressive, however, was the students' enthusiasm, intelligence, and devotion to solutions as showcased throughout the problem-solving process itself. By encouraging these kids to pursue their ideas (as well as introducing them early to an international network of smart peers), Bright Green Youth has ensured that many of these young people will return to their communities ready to become leaders -- in their high schools, on their campuses, in their future workplaces -- in sustainability. I have no doubt that simply by telling them now that yes, they have what it takes to solve planetary problems, this camp made a crucial difference in many future careers. I look forward to seeing where these kids will go.
Photo: Jakob Dall
Read about other inspiring youth-focused and youth-led initiatives in the Worldchanging archives:
LIFE as a gift, is a gift.
Open youth's presence ...
Another youth-focused climate change initiative WorldChanging readers should be aware of is PlanetCall.org. This web campaign allows young people to leave a personal "Call" -- their vision for more a sustainable world -- and to sign a declaration showing their support for an ambitious new global climate treaty at COP15. The goal is to deliver 1 million signatures, along with the Calls, to the Danish government, the host of COP15. Please visit the site, sign the declararion, leave your "Call," and tell your friends.