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The Pandemic Has Not Stopped Young People

The new generations explain to CitiPlat how not to lose the momentum and visibility of the environmental movement, even during a global health emergency

Many might think that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken away the visibility of the youth movement that for over a year has been filling the squares around the world to ask governments for concrete commitments to protect the environment. Indeed, the isolation decided to contain the spread of the pandemic has prevented demonstrations. But despite this, the new generations are even more determined than before to make their voices heard. In recent weeks, some of their representatives have told CitiPlat this very clearly.

New communication modes are being organised to continue to convey their ideas, raise awareness of climate change and fuel processes that can last in the long term. The movement was able to adapt to the emergency situation mainly thanks to its digital matrix. The initiative founded by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future, has made full use of the potential of social networks, while also reconciling its global nature with local actions strongly linked to the territory.

The fear that the pandemic has diminished public attention on climate change is balanced by the hope that, in reality, things can really go in the opposite direction. In fact, in recent months, the debate among those concerned with environmental policies has been even more full of food for thought.

Giovanni Mori, a young environmental engineer, is the representative of Fridays for Future in Brescia, one of the most industrialized cities in Italy and Europe. His work, which focuses on assessing polluting emissions in urban centers, helps him a lot in his role as an environmental activist. From this point of view, awareness is the key concept. Mori say, for example, “It is now very fashionable to say that energy must be produced from renewable sources. That's very true, but why is it much less fashionable to say that the first thing to do, even before focusing on renewables, would be to save energy? Before I put solar panels on the roof of my house, I should be aware that if I got dressed and covered more I could save energy, and that's the most precious energy.“

And this is where, according to Mori, that the role of the activist comes into play. He feels that he must disseminate information, increase sensitivity on environmental issues and, in essence, increase the degree of awareness of society. That's why, he feels it is crucial to engage in as much dialogue as possible with the people around them.

This is essential to keep the energy especially among the younger generations, whose enthusiasm can wane after a while. Mori explains, “At first it's easy to engage and inflame the kids but keeping this flame alive over time is much more difficult”.

According to Mori, in the last year it has been important to have increased initiatives, such as weekly events; it contributed to a new awareness to grow roots. Today, moreover, climate change and the idea of investing in a more sustainable economic model are constantly at the center of public debate. Furthermore, it is a subject that is being increasingly covered by media representing the establishment, such as the British Financial Times and The Economist.

The basic idea, on which all young activists who have shared their experiences with CitiPlat agree on, is that every single citizen can and should do something to change the course of events. For 23 year old Italian activist, Adele Zaini, every small act count even if you are not a member of an organization or a structured group.

Adele, a Physics major, is part of CrowdForest, a non-profit that disseminate information on climate change issues. Like so many of her peers, she chose to take to the streets and demonstrate against global warming because now, she tells us, “it is impossible to remain indifferent“.

Personal history, academic background, attention and care towards what belongs to the community, civic-mindedness are all factors that contribute to the birth of an environmental activist and the continuous formulation of ideas and proposals. “A degree in Biology was very important to me because it gave scientific value to my ecological sensitivity,” explains Federica Gasbarro, activist of Fridays for Future in Italy. Federica decided to actively engage after participating in a seminar on climate change in 2019, which she says was point of no return for her. She says, “From that day, I have kept telling myself that I don't want to leave my children a worse world, and I wouldn’t want them to think I did nothing to change things”. Her decision to represent young Italians involved in the fight against climate change at the United Nations came after a meeting with Greta Thunberg in Rome.

To those who think that the movement risks losing public visibility and grip on society, Federica points out, “The movement will not be scaled back by the current health emergency and will not exhaust its proposals because it is dealing with an issue that will always be relevant”. Moreover, the forced isolation caused by the pandemic did not stop the mobilization because the movement was born taking advantage of the potential of social networks and in general of the network that are always available. In fact, they have been further utilized in recent months. Federica explains, “In place of the street demonstrations, certainly more effective there are other tools, such as digital strikes“.

Maintaining this intensity will not be easy, however, not only because of the many restrictions imposed around the world on freedom of movement. The Italian young activist for Fridays for Future has a suggestion to overcome this inevitable difficulty. She adds, “We should start talking with the institutions and not discharge all the responsibility for concrete action on policy“.

There is, of course, a reason why there are so many young people among the most active in the defence of the environment today. Theirs is the first generation to have been completely overwhelmed by the impact of global warming, which has accelerated further in recent years.

“Previous generations tend not to realize it, for this reason they called us the climate generation, they even called me a climate fanatic. The truth is that we do not have the same interests, because our generation is truly in danger,“ says Iris Duquesne, French activist of 17 years old.

Iris is also convinced that the pandemic will not cause the movement to fight climate change to lose momentum, especially in Europe. Iris adds, “we have always done much here, more than anyone else, even though we should do even more now, because now is the only time that matters“.

For obvious reasons, the health emergency of these months has limited human interactions and prevented any aggregation, but at the same time created the conditions to raise the awareness of the children. During distance learning, for example, teachers have often spoken about the importance of recycling and environmental care, raising awareness among all children about issues that could not be more topical. Similarly, during confinement, many have used the time available to read and inquire.

Paradoxically, the Covid-19 pandemic has given activists the chance to reach even more people and ultimately to be more connected than before. Iris explains that, “Through social networks, it is easy to sponsor initiatives in favor of climate change by declining them in many different projects. We're certainly not in the ideal situation, but getting as much benefit as possible is probably the smartest strategy to pursue”.

All the interviewed activists agreed that the post-pandemic society should continue to make room for youth initiatives because their contribution is fundamental to the future of the planet. Everyone is aware of the risk of being able to go back to the past, compromising all the efforts of these years. For this reason, they told us that it will be necessary to create further concrete initiatives, capable of touching the interests of all and thus generating greater social value.

by MICRI students Rachele Casorati, Nicolò Daniele, Maria Vittoria Genovesi, Francesca Paradisi e Carlotta Ruocco (*)

(*) MICRI is the Master in Communication for International Relations at IULM University, Milan, Italy

Coordination and Italian editing: Emanuele Valenti - English editing: Mina Zahine


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