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Do the young have the will to make climate change sacrifices?

By Thom Woodroofe - posted Wednesday, 15 July 2009

On Monday, the biggest youth climate change conference Australia has ever seen wound up in Sydney.

The likes of Al Gore lined up to inspire thousands of young people to discover their inner Captain Planets and solve the climate crisis.

The sentiment was noble but the focus unclear. Young people don't need to be persuaded of the climate crisis. Poll any group of people, young or old, and a majority will talk of their passion to live in a greener world.


But ask that same group how much they drive, or fly, or how many children they intend to have and you'll be amazed.

It simply doesn't add up.

The reality is that there is a dangerous and underlying tension between hopes and reality when it comes to young people and climate change.

Left unchanged it will bring our urgent campaigns for salvation crashing down in a pile of double standards and hypocrisy. A little-known report released last year by London company TNS Global Market Research Specialists highlighted this dichotomy.

Eight thousand young people from 27 countries took part in the survey. While an overwhelming majority thought changes to the environment were a result of human behaviour, economic ambitions remained unchecked and most were not willing to make the hard sacrifices necessary to avert dangerous changes to our climate.

The report shows it is almost as if young people advocate change but really want to hang on to the status quo.


To escape the guilt, we hide behind flowery statements and campaigns like Earth Hour, seemingly doing "our bit" for the environment by turning our lights off once a year, or carrying around chic recyclable bags. Gosh, can't you see how "green" we are?

In order to bring about real change my generation needs to "walk the talk" when it comes to climate change. Reconciling our economic and lifestyle ambitions with our passions for the environment would be the place to start.

Overcoming this inertia will be much harder than any global negotiation taking place. But the consequences are too dire and the time frame too urgent not to do so.

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First published in The Herald Sun on July 14, 2009.

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About the Author

Thom Woodroofe, 21, is a foreign affairs analyst combining journalism, research, teaching and community work to advance an understanding of Australia's place in the world.

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