Why should I care?
That question, initially posed by a 16-year-old this summer, has been echoed repeatedly by young Bermudians when asked their views on the climate crisis. But rather than a defiant statement of dismissal, the question is at the heart of their search for meaning during a time when every manner of tragedy, from school shootings to the displacement of families owing to war and famine, are within their line of sight, shouting for attention.
Now that the pandemic has the attention of every nation on earth, the impact of climate change continues to jockey for headline position. Record-breaking fires, stronger hurricanes and severe droughts are altering the earth’s landscape while warming sea waters, rising tides and expanding flood zones are displacing entire communities.
Although many of these issues haven’t directly impacted Bermuda — yet — the sheer frequency of each new human catastrophe has caused young people to become numb to anything that doesn’t have an immediate impact on themselves, their family or their friends.
“What can I do about it? I’m just a kid.”
“Individual actions don’t matter. Where is the accountability?”
These responses reflected views spanning the gamut from “Everyone can do something to make a difference, no matter how small” to “My actions won’t matter because of the lack of political will to contain the fossil fuel industry”.
When did our young develop such a deep level of defeatism? What has happened to youthful optimism? I for one am both saddened that we’re having to have this conversation and buoyed with optimism that so many young people are fully prepared to engage in the discussion.
“Where is the hope?”
This question, asked by many exactly as written here, is heartbreaking. Where indeed?
As each new environmental disaster unfolds, the call to address the human toll on the environment increases. Fortunately, the voices of young people around the world demanding climate action are now the loudest and impossible to ignore. They are demanding a say in what their future is going to look like, and their vision is not appearing to align in a substantive or meaningful way to where we find ourselves now.
Let’s tackle the first two questions: “Why should I care?” and “What can I do about it?”.
Wherever and as often as possible, answering these two questions must be demonstrated by the actions of those within their circle of influence. Immediate and extended family members, teachers and educators, leaders of their extracurricular and leisure activities, and all places of commerce, set the example our young people follow.
When young people come together in November for Bermuda’s first Youth Climate Summit, their questions and concerns will be addressed as honestly as possible, and a space will be provided for them to think through the issues and contribute to the discussion. Participants will hear from local and international climate subject matter experts on the science and what’s still unknown. They will also meet with local NGOs taking action to protect and restore the island’s natural environment and businesses doing the same in a meaningful way. Knowing who is doing what, where and why.
Most importantly, they will engage with youth activists of their own age from Bermuda and around the globe who, through sharing the challenges and impacts of their own climate initiatives, demonstrate how powerful one young person can be. Then, after selecting one of three tracks — sustainability, conservation or climate justice — they will collaborate in small groups with their peers from schools across Bermuda to develop their own ideas and action plans based on what they have learnt. Thanks to the generous support of summit partners, they will have the resources to turn those plans into reality in the months that follow.
“What difference will it make to my future? Where is the hope?” This one is tricky. It deserves a response both genuine and optimistic, realistic yet encouraging. Most importantly, it demands a willingness to listen to how they envision their future and a commitment to help make that vision a reality. Perhaps realising that their voice and individual actions matter, and that collectively we can make a difference, is enough of an answer for now.
Registration for the summit is now open and closes on October 15. The weeklong event prepares and empowers students to address climate on a local level and is the foundation for a year of youth-led sustainability, conservation, and climate justice initiatives.
To register, or for more information, visit www.YCSBda.com.
• Karla Lacey is the chief executive of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. Established by a Private Act of the Bermuda Parliament in 1992 and officially opened in July 1997, BUEI is a registered non-profit and does not receive any government funding. The organisation relies on the continued financial support of the community to deliver impactful, high-quality educational programmes including the Eco-Schools Bermuda programme, and events such as the Youth Climate Summit