The survey revealed that young people have a reasonable understanding of environmental sustainability, but they are less aware of how it relates to social and economic issues. They tended to associate the term ‘sustainability’ with resource use and the environment. They were concerned about the lack of action towards sustainable development, especially on pollution, deforestation and fossil fuels. However, they showed less interest in the underlying systems that cause these problems, such as business operations, food systems, transport and emissions. Educators need to do more to help young people learn about the interconnectedness of environment, society and economy. This could be through involvement in local community-led action projects and learning from hopeful examples across the globe.
What do young people want and fear for the future?
Young people dream of a future with family, good homes and good jobs, but they are worried that sustainability and climate change issues might prevent them from achieving these goals. They are especially concerned about how climate change, poverty and a failed economy might affect their personal futures.
Our survey asked them to imagine what the future would be like for a child like them, named Alex, in the year 2050. This question evoked a lot of eco-anxiety and revealed young people’s fears about the future. Educators need to be careful about how they teach young people about the climate change crisis because too much eco-anxiety may create a feeling of hopelessness. It is important to promote intergenerational justice by showing young people positive examples and role models of what adults and children are doing together to create a better future and planet.
“Alex would think we are failures for not moving to sustainability sooner. Alex would lose hope in humanity”
(Female, age 17)”
How do young people feel they can take action on sustainability and climate change?
Young people want to take action on sustainability and climate change issues, but they are not sure how. They know some consumer actions they can do at home or in their community, such as using less, wasting less, recycling and picking up litter. But they are less confident about how to influence sustainability on a national or global level. They also think that governments and businesses have the most responsibility for making sustainability happen, followed by everyone – though this does vary by age. They need more guidance and support from educators on what actions they can take and how they can make a difference. Educators also need to help young people learn about the mechanisms of social change and how they can apply them in their everyday contexts and communities.