I used to write regularly about politics here on the Shift. Its importance for tackling climate change is pretty obvious: a problem that transcends national borders asks for a political and diplomatic solution. Yet, together with my audience, I got discouraged by the fact that the positive progress that has been made on that front always seems to be ‘too little, too late’. I chose to focus my articles on entrepreneurs and scientists paving the way for solving the climate crisis. From the response I got from you, my dear readers, it seems you like that approach.
Yet, you probably already felt it coming, today I will return to the topic of politics once again. And guys, please don’t click away now. I want to hear from you whether you think the idea I am suggesting six sentences down makes any sense. You see, last weekend I attended the European Youth Event in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Over 8000 young people gathered there to discuss the most important topics regarding our future. That I was there to talk about climate change will not surprise you, but the summit addressed many more topics like youth unemployment, terrorism, and welfare divisions.
You can imagine that being in the middle of such a whirlpool of ideas and opinions gives food for thought. There was one particular fact I couldn’t stop thinking about on the way back home: apparently only 28 % of young people participated in the last European elections (compared to 43 % for the whole population). Isn’t it sad that the youngest section of the population (that is allowed to vote, let’s not even talk about those younger than 18) is represented the least in the parliament?
Especially when it comes to issues with repercussions in the future, such as climate change, this distortion of representation is quite problematic. Back home in Brussels, an idea struck me while I was unpacking my dirty socks from the trip. Would it be possible to step-up climate ambition in Europe, and beyond, by simply making more young people cast their vote? The idea seems logical, but the scientist in me was begging for numbers to verify my hypothesis.
Main source of data is the Global Shapers Survey 2017, which surveyed over 30 000 young people around the world questioning, among others, what issues they are worried about. The results don’t leave much room for interpretation: for 48.8 % climate change and the destruction of nature is one of the top three issues affecting the world today. In Europe, even 59.6 % young people think so. It is therefore considered the number one most pressing issue, followed by large-scale conflicts and inequality.
Interestingly enough, on a national level young people rank the issue of climate change much lower. Only 19.9 % think it is a serious issue affecting their own country. Again, European youngsters perceive it to be more worrisome than the global average. That perception is, by the way, more or less homogenous among gender and age range between 18 to 30. The fact that young people in other regions, like Africa or Asia, lie awake primarily about other things shows that Europe’s public debate and education address climate change more often. And also, maybe, that being worried about the climate is a first world ‘luxury’. But that’s food for a whole discussion on its own.
When gauging whom young people think have the greatest role to play in making the world a better place, governments ranked second highest globally (after individuals) and even first in Europe. Interestingly enough, young people don’t act on this belief when the time has come to go to the ballot, it seems.
It doesn’t sound unreasonable to conclude from all this (you are welcome to disagree) that young people are convinced that climate change is a pressing global issue that should be addressed at that level and that governments have a huge responsibility to tackle this challenge. Then why is it seldom a top priority for ministers and governments? Clearly because of the largest share of the voters doesn’t share the same opinion as the youngest segment of the population. Because let’s be real, politicians priorities are a mirror of their voters. I believe there hence at least some truth in my theory: politics would pay more attention to the climate challenge if more young people would cast their vote.
I came to the European Youth Event with the expectation to give my environmental engagement a boost. But above all, I feel more politically engaged. So don’t be too surprised if you see a call to vote popping up every now and then in the coming months. In the end, we are one year ahead of the European elections. But don’t worry, I will keep the Shift full of inspiration to take action in your own life, because chances are high that even with the vote of the youth, politicians won’t step up the game as much as they should.