Global warming, and its effect on climate, is one the most pressing issues facing the world today. It is a metaproblem that exacerbates most other challenges that keep us up at night – from sea level rise or the loss of natural resources to increased conflict, poverty, and gender inequality.
Despite much already having been written on the urgency with which we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pull carbon out of the air, and redesign our social-environmental systems towards new ways of doing business, most decision makers, from individual consumers to world leaders, have been excruciatingly slow to take action.
What seems to be lacking is an understanding and consensus of real, workable technologies and practices to solve the crisis of growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.
You might also like:
- How to bring a forest back to life
- The paint that can kill ‘superbugs’
- What we’ll need to build a Moon base
Younger generations, however, seem to be clued in to the reality that there are indeed climate solutions to this global problem. "The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change,” said Nobel Prize nominee Greta Thunberg in her 2018 TED talk.
Her bold, decisive, and informed rhetoric has inspired a global movement of school strikes for climate called #FridaysForFuture, orchestrated by students the worldwide. On 15 March 2019, 1.5 million young people and their allies hit the streets, striking in 2052 locations in 123 different countries.
The planet’s remaining forests will have to be protected, as they do vital work to soak up excess carbon (Credit: Getty Images)
While they are marching for a future they want, the endless debating over the different technologies needed to halt rising temperatures delay the necessary change. Climate solutions already exist and are scaling. There is no technology or economic barrier; rather, it is a lack of will and leadership to move farther and faster than the future of upcoming generations demand.
I lead a team of researchers from around the world, and together we map, model, and detail the world’s most impactful solutions to try and reverse global warming. Our research at Project Drawdown shows that there are better technologies and practices for electricity generation, transportation, buildings, industry, the food system, land use, and overconsumption. Climate solutions exist for nations, municipalities, businesses, investors, homeowners, so that consumers can shift towards a system that benefits all.
This is already happening across the globe through existing solutions that promote social justice, equity, and economic development, while restoring the planet’s natural carbon cycle. It is in younger generations that we will find the inspiration and courage for this change.
Adopting regenerative practices on current cropland, grassland and degraded land can restore soil health and fertility
Solutions abound, both scientifically proven and financially feasible. They are interventions that can shift the way the world does business. The global economy is based on extractive and exploitative growth models, spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through fossil fuel combustion, land conversion, and excessive consumption of everything – but the economy does not need to be.
Instead, renewable energy options, such as solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, and geothermal plants, can produce clean, abundant access to electricity, which currently accounts for approximately 25% of global emissions. Along with enabling technologies like energy storage and grid flexibility, renewable energy systems can fully replace coal, oil, and gas-fired power plants.
A plethora of options are available to moving people and goods from Point A to Point B that reduce or avoid burning fossil fuels from the tailpipe. Hybrids or electric vehicles are a good choice for medium or longer distance travel, but biking, using public transport, or walking are better options for emissions and human health for most people’s daily lives.
As consumers, we have to take more responsibility about how our actions affect the planet – like how much our food travels, and how it is processed (Credit: Getty Images)
By reducing food loss and waste and moving towards a healthy, plant-rich diet, all the extra emissions and energy associated with producing, processing, packaging, distributing, cooking, and decomposing of food left uneaten or overconsumed could be avoided, while also providing sustenance to populations in need. These are some of the most impactful decisions every individual can make every day to help solve the climate crisis
Rather than cutting down forests and degrading wetlands to supply our rapacious appetite for meat, timber, and energy, protecting ecosystems can safeguard, expand, and create new carbon sinks. Adopting regenerative practices on current cropland, grassland and degraded land can restore soil health and fertility, increase yield and provide the same abundance of materials without destroying the natural systems.
We do not need an economy based on exploiting fossil fuels; instead we can create a new economy that is based on restorative and regenerative growth
Taken together, implementing regenerative practices for agriculture and livestock management, adopting a plant-rich diet, and reducing food waste, could result in enough food being produced on current farmland to feed the world’s growing population, now until 2050 and beyond. Taking actions to change the food system from supply through demand can prevent the need to cut down forests for food production, with enough existing cropland to produce biomass to supply feedstocks for other materials such as bioplastics or alternative concrete.
Accomplishing all this, however, requires individuals to make different decisions every day on what is produced, purchased, and consumed. These decisions can be hard for some, but when the results help to solve global warming, food insecurity, human health, and deforestation, they become what might be called the solution ‘duh-factor’. With enough cascading benefits, or ‘win-win-win-wins’, implementing climate solutions simply become common sense.
Non-polluting forms of power like solar can replace those which burn fossil fuels – if the will is there to make the change (Credit: Getty Images)
The growth of these interventions needs to accelerate at a much faster rate. Young people know this, perhaps because it is the only future worth fighting for. Along with the world’s poor, women, and indigenous peoples, younger generations will disproportionately experience the worst effects of climate change if nothing is done; or too little is accomplished too late. Acting now is essential for everyone and everything on this planet; however, as a motivating principle, ensuring that future generations can live healthy, meaningful lives should be humanity’s highest priority.
Like Greta Thunberg, Lauren Howland is not waiting quietly for adults to figure it all out. A 23-year-old indigenous woman from the Jicarilla Apache Nation, Lauren is a co-founder of International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC), which received the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2018 for its continued work on environmental issues.
Older people who hold the reins of political, economic, and intellectual power today must listen to these voices of change
A voice for young indigenous peoples worldwide, Howland says: “Young people are more connected and in tune with each other and this planet than any other point in humanity's existence. We realise we are fighting to save humanity from literal extinction, and we need the policymakers of this planet to collectively realise this also. It is here, climate changed. We need climate policies enacted and enforced across the globe now, that include the solutions we are already implementing in our own local communities."
Other young people are jumping to into the solution space, actively working on potential game-changing innovations. Aäron Claeys, a self-taught young entrepreneur based in Antwerp, Belgium, works on developing nanotech solutions for sustainable materials with the aim of “reversing global warming, improving the health, energy efficiency and quality of life, while restoring the planet's biosphere”.
He and his team have already marketed products that can double the lifetime of textiles, leather, and footwear to the fashion industry, which may account for up to 10% of global greenhouse gases. He is now working on developing self-cleaning, air-purifying, and carbon-capturing building materials.
The recent climate strikes show how younger people are being galvanised over climate change (Credit: Getty Images)
The crisis we all are facing together is an opening to bring young people into the conversation. Creating the future we all want requires older and younger generations to work together for the change we need. Young people are hungry to take part. Older people who hold the reins of political, economic, and intellectual power today must listen to these voices of change, support new ideas and innovation, and rethink assumptions about the way the world works, because the world will not be ours forever. No discussion of our younger generations’ future should take place without them sitting at the same table.
“It is not enough to prepare youth to eventually assume the roles you [adults] currently hold. Youth are prepared to be impactful as we are right now. We need those above us to mentor us now, so that we don’t have to wait to have your jobs; so that when we are in your positions, we can be even more successful,” said Silas Swanson, a second-year student at Columbia University during a youth panel at the Omega Institute ‘Drawdown Learn’ event held last year in Rhinebeck, New York. Silas woke me up to this truth, and we have been in contact ever since.
Greta Thunberg launched a legion of young climate strike organisers around the world who are waking people up to the need for change
Every climate-motivated scientist, policymaker, engineer, architect, lawyer, city planner, investor, business person, activist, economist, environmentalist, thought leader, and every other interested professional should carve out time in their week to mentor at least one young person. Five would be better, and worth the effort.
Mentoring is not simply teaching in classrooms or offering advice during office hours. It is about committing to give to and learn from others; to do whatever one can to support, empower, and lift up others to achieve their fullest potential. It does not cost too much in time, and the potential rewards are incalculable.
Poorer people will bear a disproportionate burden of the worst effects of climate change, such as flooding (Credit: Getty Images)
Greta Thunberg launched a legion of young climate strike organisers around the world who are waking people up to the need for change. There are many other young unsung voices across the globe working to create the future they need. We older generations must look to youth for inspiration, motivation, and courage.
Rather than seeking the courage to “fight” climate change, we need to find the courage to see the common-sense solutions right in front of us. The youth of today can help us all find the way, and together we can create the future we want.
- Chad Frischmann is the vice-president and lead researcher of Project Drawdown, an organisation seeking to find ways the global community can help mitigate and reverse the effects of climate change. He is also a willing mentor, with two spots open.
Join 900,000+ Future fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter or Instagram.
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital, and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.