In this article, final year university student May Tatum explores the power of local youth alliances to motivate behaviour change on sustainability, and to build momentum towards societal action on climate change.
Youth activism on climate change has grown with the generational shift towards Gen Z and Millennials, especially through the power of social media. Platforms such as Twitter allow young people to share news instantly, causing hashtags to emerge and trend. Gone are the days of waiting for the news to be printed in the morning paper as it is instantly available online within minutes. This also allows opinions to be broadcast and alliances to be formed between young people at a local level.
A good example of one of these alliances from my own experience at university is the Environmental Sustainability Society (ESS) at the University of Essex. It has been run by Fausta Ašmegaitė (President) and Mario Ugarte (Vice President): “we decided to start the society as we are both very passionate about the environment and wanted to find a way to meet like-minded people as well as share tips among us.” The duo was partly inspired by the University of Essex’s sustainability team, as they believed they could make a link between the students’ opinions and university’s ideas, improving sustainability across the campus. Due to Covid limitations they have only been able to organise one clean-up so far. Instead, the society has organised a variety of activities such as a vegan/vegetarian online cooking fundraiser, a sustainability quiz and zoom meetings to get members debating a variety of environmental issues such as meat taxes.
Another great example of a youth alliance forming from my university experience is the Vegan Society run by Eloise Martin. She started the society with a vision of connecting fellow students who eat a plant-based diet and to encourage others to be curious about veganism. One of the society’s main aims is to give back to charities that promote animal welfare by fundraising and volunteering in the community. Eloise says, “people who are unsure about converting to veganism can even just limit their dairy or meat intake to help the environment.” Recent graduate Marnie Hutchings is an example of this: “even before I turned vegetarian, I did meat free Mondays. In fact, my family still do it.” Because of Covid, Eloise came up with the idea to have online Zoom cooking sessions along to encourage other members to try new recipes and aid their transitions into a vegan diet. One of her favourite moments since starting the society was when she was inviting onto BBC Radio Essex to promote awareness for veganism during the month of Veganuary.
Charlotte, a member of the society, felt like she wanted to change her lifestyle after watching Netflix’s Seaspiracy. “It’s actually been easier than I thought it would be to go vegan as there are lots of alternatives in the supermarkets now. I feel a lot healthier in myself and happier for making a more ethical choice in my diet.” Most restaurants and fast-food chains such as KFC have vegan options available making it more accessible for everyone to follow a vegan diet.
For people who are trying to be more conscious of being environmentally friendly, Mario from the ESS recommends starting by making small changes such as recycling to reduce your carbon footprint. He says the best thing you can do to help is talk to people in your circle about how critical the issue is: “anybody has potential to influence their field by being more conscious and aware of the environment and what it takes to protect it.” Little changes such as turning off lights to save energy and wasting less food makes a big impact on the environment, although these changes need to be complimented by wider societal change. Nonetheless, a great first step is for every person to try to help the environment in their own way, whether it be recycling, energy saving or buying second hand. Local youth alliances have the potential to inspire important first steps, as well as amplifying the wider movement for action on climate change.