By Taylor, Robin
Ecos , No. 151
The emergence of a strong youth voice for environmental action--particularly on climate change--is hardly surprising. Recent polling by the Climate Institute (1) backs up wider findings that younger people are much more concerned about progress on climate change mitigation than older Australians. The nature and rapid spread of this growing generational push for proactive policy reflects a can-do attitude and savvy use of today's powerful, highly democratic social media technology.
A bushwalking holiday in Tasmania's old-growth forests while reading Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers was the catalyst that led to the growth of a powerful coordinated youth movement on climate change. Co-founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Amanda McKenzie, says that looking at some of the oldest trees in the world and reading about how humans could be changing the whole planet in less than a generation brought home to her how serious the problem was.
Amanda and Sydney student Anna Rose, a past national convenor of the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN), launched the AYCC in February 2007 with the objective of mobilising young people to solve climate change. AYCC links a wide range of youth organisations.
'The ability to connect using social networking tools and internet technology means that young people can do in an instant what would have taken previous generations months to do,' says Amanda.
'But, more importantly, young people have the moral high ground on this issue because they will be the generation most affected if inadequate action is taken. Many of them can't vote but the decisions being made will definitely affect their future.'
The maturation of the youth climate movement in Australia became evident with the staging of the Powershift conference in Sydney in July. Around 1200 participants aged 14 to 26 converged on what was billed as Australia's first national youth summit. It was based on a precursor event first held in the US in 2007 where 6000 young people met in Washington D.C.
Through a range of activities supported by non-government organisations (NGOs) and key commentators, the forum aimed to educate young people about how they can take action on climate change.
After two-and-a-half years, the AYCC has grown from nothing to an operation with an annual budget of $500 000 with offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
At any time, 350 to 400 volunteers around the country may be supporting its activities, most of them aged between 19 and 21, although its membership covers a broader age group from 12 to 29 year olds.
And politicians are taking notice. At the 2008 climate change talks in Poznan, Poland, McKenzie says AYCC was the only NGO to be granted a meeting with Australia's Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong. McKenzie and Rose were also the only youth representatives interviewed by Australia's Senate Committee on climate policy.
Following the Powershift conference, which McKenzie describes as the biggest per capita organising of young people in the world around climate change, the organisation's next big campaign is 'Youth Decide,' a national campaign jointly organised with World Vision, which McKenzie says is about giving the generation who will be most affected by the decisions made at Copenhagen the opportunity to vote for the world they want to inherit.
'The first aim is to get tens of thousands of young people voting online so we can take that message to the UN. The second is to get young people to hold local voting events and invite politicians and the media along to show what young people are doing about climate change,' she says.
The AYCC has also started a project to support Pacific Island countries in their preparations for the UN talks in Copenhagen.
'We have the ambitious idea that we can create a nationwide movement of young people who are going to be united,' says McKenzie. …