The recent debate about climate change has once again shed light on youth voices and their anxiety towards the future of our planet. Week after week we see the youth demonstrating across the world with one shared message: “Act now!” What do the youth really want? Young French political analyst Victoire de Marans, 22, met with teenagers in the streets of Berlin and talked to them to understand their concerns. She conducted her interviews in German and translated the youth voices for the purpose of this article: Answers from the streets to the current “climate of hysteria”.
Year after year, the divide between generations is seriously deepening. Suffice to mention the numerous attacks on the 16 year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. Politicians from all boards lashed out on climate strikes and their young participants on social media platforms. Yet the success of Fridays for Future cannot be underestimated. The movement created by Greta Thunberg provides a new space for the youth to express their concerns on the ongoing climate crisis. Youth voices resonated once more on September 21, when the global climate strike gathered over 3.2 million young people from more than 165 countries. To fill the gap between generations and tackle the issue of climate change, it has become urgent to understand which stakes are important for the youth and what they expect to gain from demonstrations. With these questions in mind, I went to a Friday for Future event in Berlin to meet young demonstrators.
Let me first ask: What does “public value” mean to you?
Lara (17) and Hannah (17): Maybe it could refer to the value given to the public? Nowadays there is an actual need to take the public’s opinion into consideration.
Ella (17), Penelope (17) and Frankia (16): I guess it means that it is important for the public to participate?
Alexia (14) and Thomas (16): To me, public value refers to the value of society. We should all be aware that, together, we can actually change things.
What concrete measures could business implement to more efficiently protect the environment?
Lara and Anna: Carbon emission should be their first concern. Big companies urgently need to find a more sustainable way to transport their products.
Ella: I think a first step would be to reduce their plastic consumption. That is the most important aspect to me.
Frankia: They could reduce their CO2 emissions by producing regionally instead of relocating their industries in China. In doing so they could enhance good standards for production and reduce their negative impact on their employees and the environment. I feel like these companies have responsibilities regarding society.
Thomas: Some companies should simply stop doing what they are busy with now, but of course it is not realistic. They could protect the environment in lots of ways: by avoiding energy and material waste, being careful about their transportation means, or producing locally.
Are youth voices heard? What should be done for you to feel that your voice matters?
Ella, Penelope and Frankia: They might be doing a lot, but we do not see any result. It feels like these people are disconnected from the very concept of climate change. Maybe they could change the way they are perceived through real restrictions such as the ban of national flights. Yet they should learn from the French situation and be aware of the impact of such policies on poorer people. Maybe rewarding good attitudes for both citizens and companies could be a way to tackle this issue.
Yann (16) and Adele (14): No, even though we are demonstrating every week it feels like nothing is changing at the moment. They say they understand but nothing actually happens. Stakeholders should actively apply experts’ recommendations and listen to the people’s demands. There is also an urgent need for more transparency.
I feel like money is louder than youth voices at the moment.
Sarah (24): I feel like money is louder than our voices at the moment. When taking actions and doing politics stakeholders should keep the next generations in mind. From now on it is not just about us and our parents.
If concrete actions were to be implemented to create a dialogue with business and politicians on climate change, would you be willing to participate?
Ella: I am not sure what would come up from such initiatives, but it would be interesting to discuss and be directly involved. Debating together would be much better than simply reading about each other. Our arguments would also be much harder to ignore.
Alexia and Thomas: We feel like we don’t know enough about technical details but having a direct dialogue would be really valuable and important. It would be easier for politicians to understand which issues really matter to us.
Sarah: Many activists such as Greta Thunberg are already doing a great job meeting with stakeholders, so I personally would not do it.
Would you demonstrate with the same intensity for any societal issue? Could you name the most urgent in your eyes?
Lara and Hannah: The most urgent issue at the moment is the growing gap in society. Fridays for Future are our first demonstrations, but we would also go to the streets for other issues such as poverty and loan increase in Berlin.
Thomas: Yes and no. We feel like climate change is the most urgent problem. If the world comes to an end, there is no reason to fight against racism. When this issue is solved, then we can demonstrate actively for other societal problems.
Alexia: Social inequalities, sexism, racism and loan increase are all interconnected. If we changed the system, we would all be able to act in a more sustainable way. For example, taking the train and buying biological products would be more accessible to the majority.
A last question to conclude this interview: are you hopeful for the future?
Ella and friends: Yes, of course. Nothing good comes from being pessimistic. We would just get sadder and nothing would be achieved. Even though things are looking pretty bad right now we must really act.
Sarah: I don’t know. Our generation should get away with the current situation, but I feel pessimistic for our children.
While interviewing the youth demonstrating at Invalidenpark on October 18, I could personally witness the growing gap in society and between politicians, business people, and the people at large. Yet solving the issue of climate change requires teamwork. All generations must find a common ground in order to unite around this shared challenge. To do so, it is now crucial to create a space where dialogue and multi-generational interactions are fostered and promoted.