A Generation Misinformed?

“Today’s young people are uninformed, don’t listen, and just don’t know what’s good for them.” Any reasonable person should be taken aback by such an argument. Surely, faced with today’s myriad of social and economic issues, a critical job shortage and a sea of graduates faced with escalating unemployment, the problem isn’t that young people “just don’t get it.” Canada is one of the brightest and best-educated nations, with a strong tradition of social activism and public engagement—particularly among the younger population. Would you believe, then, that our government thinks young Canadians concerned about climate change just don’t know what they’re talking about?

The Prime Minister recently commented in a speech that young people are simply “not well-informed” about climate change, energy, and the interplay between them and international diplomacy. It’s both amusing and disturbing for the government to take this stance. Amusing because it almost seems too ridiculous to be true; is the government really calling young climate activists—among the most vocal critics of its environmental policies—mere chatterboxes, going on about issues beyond their feeble comprehension (regardless of their education, work experience or other expertise on the subject)? At the same time, such an assertion is deeply disturbing, as it seems to be part of a larger pattern of ignorance and refusal on the government’s part to craft policy grounded in science instead of ideology.

The government has made no secret of its focus on energy and fossil fuel resources to keep the economy humming along nicely—environment be damned. As far as Mr. Harper is concerned, the short-term interests of steady revenue and booming resource development take precedence over the long-term health of the nation’s environment. After all, those problems will likely only become pressing after he’s out of office; it’ll be somebody else’s problem by then.

The government feels it can ignore the will of young Canadians, even in large numbers because, quite frankly, it doesn’t care about their votes. Older Canadians, particularly seniors, support the Conservative party and its economic and energy policies in majority numbers. Most importantly, they are reliable voters and if their needs are catered to, the governing party will continue to stay aloft in public opinion polls. Young people and future generations will bear the greatest burden of the mounting climate crisis, and it will affect their long-term economic prospects far more than today’s more mature citizens—but people tend to vote with their own interests in mind. It’s easier to brush aside your critics than engage them, and in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa, the sustainability of our environment is nothing more than a pawn in the political game.

Mr. Harper should be cautious. It’s not wise to discount or denigrate the opinions of young people, particularly for politicians looking to maintain or improve their public image (just ask Jean Charest). In reality, the government’s dismissive posturing belies some of the important policy work that has been done by young, committed activists and scientists. From carbon emission negotiations at major international summits to small- and large-scale sustainable development initiatives, young people are eager to bring their creative, fresh ideas to the challenge of finding solutions to the climate crisis. Ambitious young people can quickly shift the political sands if they strike the right note with the general public.

A key finding, although unsurprising, is that better educated young adults are far more concerned about climate change than their less educated peers. People with a higher level of education can generally understand complex or nuanced problems, and climate change certainly fits that mold. As more young people enter post-secondary education—and ultimately the voting, tax-paying general public—their opinions and thoughts will become more important to aspiring governments.

So, to refute the Prime Minister’s remarks: no, Canadian youth are not misinformed about climate change or lazily disengaged from contributing to public policy. Such assertions couldn’t be further from the truth. Young people, both at home and around the world, are at the forefront of innovation in geology, ecology, climate science, biotechnology, and an exhaustive list of other fields that are critical components of the online casino delicate, complex issues surrounding sustainability and climate change. If anything, the commitment of young people to solving our problems and maintaining a vibrant, healthy climate is our best hope of stopping this crisis before it’s too late.

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