The Future of a Healthier Planet Begins with Us
The promise—and need—for youth leading the way
Author: Daniela Fernandez, Founder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance; COL ‘17
Our generation has inherited a planet facing the largest crisis in human history: climate change. The 2020s mark a critical tipping point and it is now crucial that we tip the scales back in our favor.
Now more than ever, young people must commit to re-imagining how to solve our most critical climate challenges. Between our collective consciousness, global networking capabilities, and modern technological advancements, this generation—our generation—has the opportunity not only to reverse the damage done but to create a new era: one in which the bottom line of every business includes the protection of our planet.
When I attended Georgetown University as an undergraduate in 2014, I realized how few opportunities my generation had to participate in conversations about climate change. When it came to shifting the paradigm and status quo, we had even less power. If climate change will affect the youngest generations most severely, then why were we so far removed from the issue? Why weren’t we actively advocating for the development of better, more modern solutions?
Growing up in Ecuador, I directly saw the impacts of climate change. Since then, I’ve become determined to make the fight against climate change my life’s mission. Along with that mission, I have been committed to helping younger and similarly passionate voices get involved as well. With hopes to fill the vacuum for youth-driven solutions and platforms, I started the Sustainable Ocean Alliance as a freshman at Georgetown in 2014.
The United Nations defines the youngest generation, or “youth” demographic, as the 1.2 billion individuals between the age of 15-24. This generation makes up approximately 15.5% of the world’s population. Already, the youth are the most engaged in the climate cause with the strongest push behind climate action. To effectively meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, the voices and support of the youth will be essential. Youth’s participation is so pivotal, in fact, that it is even mentioned in the Paris Agreement’s preamble. The agreement also states that intergenerational equity must be a guiding principle shaping climate action.
In a recent UN survey regarding climate change, 73% of surveyed youth say they currently experience its effects, 84% of young people agreed that they needed more information to prevent it, and 89% agreed that young people have the chance to make an impactful difference. For me, however, the reports’ most startling metric was that a mere 9% of youth felt “very confident” that the world will act quickly enough to address climate change.
Despite this lack of optimism, youth leaders bring a unique set of values that may very well hold the keys to effective action. Young people are known for fostering a global, collaborative, and inclusive community. I’ve seen these values firsthand at the Sustainable Ocean Alliance—across the board.
Because youth recognize that this human-made climate change affects every living thing on this earth, inclusivity and diversity are essential tools. We embrace the power in our diversity—it offers us wisdom from places we could not find from insular perspectives of the past. When tackling a crisis with a global impact, it will be absolutely necessary to include solutions and perspectives from across the world.
The youth also value and prioritize transparency and the hard facts that come with it. In the past, generations have chosen to shirk environmental issues, ignoring both the facts and circumstances. However, we’ve shown as a generation that we value science, information, and transparency—even when we’d rather not face those issues at all.
Perhaps the most significant factor that sets the younger generation apart is that we are willing to redefine the zeitgeist and steer society towards prioritizing the health of our planet. Older generations have consistently dismissed the necessary steps towards fighting climate change out of inconvenience and a lack of economic incentive. Simply put, fighting climate change often works against the status quo of capitalistic gains. However, younger generations express a deep willingness to prioritize the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants over short-term materialistic gains. To me, this is what truly sets us apart and makes us the necessary leaders in the fight against climate change.
We are solutions-driven. We value transparency, inclusivity, and sustainability above profit, competition, and secrecy. Agreeing that talk is not enough, we now strive for actionable change.
To any Georgetown students looking to engage in this pursuit, in whatever form that might be, I offer you this advice: be decisive and act promptly. Don’t hesitate to seize the opportunities around you, and make sure to use your networks and resources to the fullest. At times, the tumultuous state of modern times and the fight against climate change can seem overwhelming. It can seem like such an enormous feat that our small individual efforts are futile in the grander scheme of things. However, since founding SOA, I’ve learned that this assumption could not be more incorrect. Our capabilities and combined efforts can truly make a difference.
I want to remind you that it is truly up to us. There is so much strength and power in our combined effort: our ability to evolve, adapt, connect, and unify. Together, we are abundantly resilient and resourceful. The betterment of our planet and ocean can only begin when we, as individuals, decide to commit to the change that’s needed right here, right now.
The future for a better and healthier planet starts now, and I invite you all to join me in it.