Our youth offer hope for the planet

Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrives for a news conference at the COP25 Climate summit in Madrid, Spain, on Monday, 9 Dec. - Photo: AP
Graham Morse

The Brazilian rainforest is burning. California is burning. Australia is burning. Venice is flooded – the water in St. Mark’s Square was recently waist high. Rivers have dried up. Farmland wasted. Oceans polluted. Coral destroyed. Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, but it could have been Cayman.

There is a climate emergency, and without deep and lasting change the world is facing untold human suffering. We see the images on TV and (most of us) nod sagely to the inevitability of climate change, but shrug and say, “What can we do?”

At COP 25, the climate change conference in Madrid this month, the UN said that, despite promises made in 2015 to cut carbon emissions, they are still growing, and reached an all-time high in 2018. Now the UN says that carbon emissions must fall by (an average of) 7.6% a year every year for the next 10 years if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5% by the end of this century and avoid catastrophic consequences.

In Madrid, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, said it is possible. But is it? It would require a sea change in political will for the US and China, and all the world’s major polluting countries, to agree to, let alone reach, net zero emissions by 2050. It would mean an acceptance by all of us of changes in the way we live our lives: buying electric cars, using public transport, flying less, cutting out beef, eating less meat, using less energy, and investing in solar or wind to power our homes and businesses.

But the message from the Madrid summit is unequivocal. All governments have to act now to cut subsidies to fossil fuels and dramatically speed up the switch from fossil fuel-generated power to sustainable resources like solar and wind. They must stop land clearing, and restore the forests, grasslands and mangroves that suck up carbon. The record since 2015 suggests that is unlikely.

Millions of young people around the world are on the streets protesting. They want governments to act NOW. They are the ones who will be living with the consequences of a devastated planet in 50 years time, not the politicians and not their parents.

The youth of Cayman have answered the call. Protect Our Future is a student environmental advocacy group that cares deeply about the future of Cayman and the planet.

They have drawn their inspiration from Greta Thunberg and the social media tag #Fridays for future, a global movement led by students. “Every Friday they strike,” said local student activist Steff Mcdermot. And two weeks ago, they lined the George Town waterfront along with CPR Cayman members.

A group of these Cayman high school students [was] in Madrid participating in the climate change summit, which ran from 2-13 Dec. Connor Childs, one of the students, said ahead of the conference, “There are going to be a lot of high-ranking people there. Like, Greta [Thunberg] is going to be there. I’m not sure if we’re going to meet her, but hopefully we will. But we are mainly there to listen. Hopefully we can weigh in on some of the conversations.” (Update: Mcdermot joined about 50 young people in a demonstration onstage after Thunberg spoke at the conference. See Cayman Compass, 13 Dec.)

10,000 students attend school in Cayman and the Protect Our Future Group believes that if those students had a vote, they would easily tip the scales against the port project. They don’t have a vote yet, but they will become a force to be reckoned with. The historic success of the CPR movement in bringing about the people-initiated referendum has changed politics. It has shown ordinary people that they have the power to bring change.
Cayman has a target of 70% renewables by 2037, but currently only around 5% of our power comes from renewables. No reports have been issued on what progress is being made or when the target will be raised to zero carbon emissions.

The future for our children and grandchildren looks bleak, but there is hope. The one thing we know about the future is that we can’t predict it. As in the last century, it will bring ground-breaking advances in technology that we cannot begin to imagine. Perhaps some untested or unknown invention that will suck carbon out of the atmosphere may yet save the planet.

But our other reason for hope is the youth of today. Their global protests have dramatically raised awareness of climate change. They will become leaders of the next generation, but will it be too late?

Graham Morse, author and ocean sailor, built his own eco-friendly house in Cayman in 2011, is an advocate for the environment and renewable energy, and is a member of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association.