Roughly a quarter of the world’s people – some 1.8 billion – have turned 15 but not yet reached 30. Scientists predict that the current population of earth is 7.2 billion and counting, while its resources are sufficient only for 2 billion people. This shows that our population is sky-rocketing while our natural resources are plummeting down at the pace of a falcon swooping down from the sky.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, too, reached a record high of 400 parts per million a few years back. Along with this, the total domestic material consumption rose from 48.7 billion tons to 71.0 billion tons. Two connections that emerge from these data points are:
1. Environmental destruction is multiplying manifold, right from the lakes to the forests to every ecosystem in between.
2. There is a ‘source population’ that can be harnessed for social change. Given an opportunity, can the Generation Z (individuals born between the 1990s and 2000s) solve the looming environmental crisis?
I believe they can if their ‘ambition and eagerness to work’ factor can be tapped for addressing the environmental crisis. The formative years of the Generation Z, whose population is forecasted to reach 2.56 billion by 2020, should be focused on imbibing a sense of social consciousness in them. In addition to this, civic engagement should be made enticing.
The education system should be redesigned – from a predominantly rote-based model to a holistic model that allows the younger generation to remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate and create solutions for public problems. Leadership training with a focus on reflections upon tomorrow and pathways to build skills for the 21st century should be incorporated into the education system. These will empower the Generation Z to become environmental problem-solvers.
While these are big ideas, implementing them in a fractured world is a monumental task that seems impractical to achieve. Born in a period of quick answers, the attention span of the Generation Z is just eight seconds. Moreover, most of them are cut off from nature, so developing an empathy towards the environment is quite difficult. They are faced with a growing income gap that has led to increased stress levels. Furthermore, they have to compete in a world that is troubled by an economic crisis. In spite of these challenges, the Generation Z can address the environmental crisis if the issues are addressed locally in synergy with the millennials.
For instance, every town in India would have a few millennials addressing environmental issues for many years. But, they aren’t aware of the tools needed to work with the younger generation, and the training required to make this happen. As the next step, these local environmentalists could be connected with schools to work with elementary, middle, and higher secondary school students in a densely-populated geographical locality.
These steps, when implemented carefully in connection with the ‘ambition and eagerness to work’ factor of Generation Z, will create a ‘model town’ where they would solve an environmental crisis in synergy with the millennials.