I spent the day in Brussels last week visiting the European Parliament. I did so in the company of some brilliant young people, who were the winners of a competition that Eurostar had launched to celebrate the start of their partnership with YPTE. The competition, called ‘Have Your Say On Sustainability’ challenged young people to create a 2-3 minute video telling us about which environmental issues really mattered to them and what changes they would like to see in the future to improve the environment. It was very difficult choosing the final five who were to be our winners, because there were a large number of young people who chose to take part and tell us about their hopes, fears and ideas for the future.
Having travelled (by Eurostar, of course) to Brussels, we took a trip across the city to the European Parliament building, walking a good part of the way there. Once inside, the young people and their parents met with MEPs and other distinguished guests.
But then came the important bit: the young winners had the opportunity to present their views on the environment and to make recommendations on future environmental policies to the assembled MEPs. And this was where the day got really interesting. All of the young people had a lot to say – their facts were well researched, their opinions clearly thought out, their suggestions both simple and highly effective.
Clear labelling on all palm oil products -sustainable or not – was suggested by one who cared passionately about the rainforest and feared that too much of it was being cut down to make way for unsustainable palm oil plantations at the expense of the flora and fauna that live there. Food miles were another related concern. Why transport food across the planet when we can grow it locally and sustainably instead?
A ban on fracking (extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing of rock layers)was proposed by another, who was already concerned about the effects people in the north west of England were already seeing as a result of initial fracking operations there.
Sustainable transport was a common theme for several of the winners, with differing suggestions as to how this could be achieved. Forcing motor manufacturers to produce lower emitting vehicles was one suggestion, hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles were recommended by another.
Energy generation without carbon emissions was another important topic they addressed. Solar power and wind energy were two examples, but nuclear energy and nuclear fusion were also discussed.
It was encouraging to see how these young people, aged between 12 and 15 already had very strong ideas about the kind of world they wanted to see for their children and their children’s children. We need more and more young people like them, young people who are not going to sleepwalk their way through life, who are going to think about what is going on in the world around them, who are going to challenge the status quo and who are going to try to use their voices to make a change for the better.
At YPTE, we’re lucky. We meet young people like these every day. And sometimes, we hope that something that we’ve said to them makes a difference to one of the sleepwalkers, flicks a switch inside their heads and makes them realise that the protection of our planet’s future is vital, not just for them and their families, but for all the people, plants and animals we share it with.
Young people like these are the future. In years to come, they will be the ones making the decisions. The challenges ahead are huge and there is no room for complacency. But if we can inspire enough of today’s young people to grow into adults who want to make a difference, I think the future will be in safe hands.
You can see the video entries of all the competition winners on YPTE’s YouTube channel. Just look for ‘Have Your Say on Sustainability’ to see the series of five videos. They’re all very much worth watching.
YPTE is only able to continue its work thanks to the support of grant making trusts and companies like Eurostar. We are extremely grafeful to all of our sponsors and supporters.