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Jemimah Shaw: Our Future Is Now


We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future.

A recent survey investigating eco-anxiety in young people found that 59% feel very or extremely worried; over 50% feel sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty; and over 45% felt that eco-anxiety affected their daily life.

Under 25s have grown up with the realities of climate change. We have witnessed extreme weather events, coral bleaching, plastic pollution, and habitat destruction. However, we have also experienced the power of knowledge and change. As humans become increasingly aware of the destruction they have caused, inspiring examples of climate change action are happening globally. Eco-buildings and electric cars are becoming the new normal and great minds, such as Greta Thunberg, are influencing a generation to protest polluting policies.

Last September, 300,000 young people took the streets to protest about the government’s lack of action on the Climate Crisis. This was driven by a strong feeling that actions of today’s decision makers will create the planet we, and future generations, will have to live in. By then, it may also be too late to undo the damage.

But protesting is not the only way young people are making a difference. Student-led initiatives are taking root across the country, delivering sustainable solutions to their community. Young people have expressed how helpless and powerless they feel when it comes to making change. Although we have little influence on policies and corporations, community-level action has been proven to have a great impact on CO2 reduction.  

Scoop is a wonderful student-led organisation, leading the way in sustainable living at universities across the UK. They are doing this by running zero-waste stores at a number of universities to reduce waste and plastic packaging. Their aim is to engage young people in sustainable living and make zero-waste shopping accessible and affordable. Their stores and community litter-picks have successfully saved over 300kg of mixed waste. Scoop’s network of over 100 students have also raised £2,000 which has been donated to local charities addressing youth homelessness and food poverty.

By 2050, young people will be active citizens and decision makers. 2050 Climate Group is a student-led organisation empowering Scotland’s youth to become leaders of climate change action. Through a series of programmes and events, they aim to equip young leaders with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to take action. The climate group also enables young people to create and access opportunities to influence and be a leading voice on climate change. Since 2014, the organisation has empowered over 500 young leaders, which they marked with a Youth Climate Summit.

At University College London, students felt that the campus was wasting too much food. As a result, #ZeroFoodWasteUCL was started.  Led by a team of students, the project aims to reduce waste by redistributing food to London’s homeless shelters. London is the 3rd most expensive city in Europe, leaving many people unable to eat. Meanwhile, universities, restaurants and households throw away enormous amounts of food. A team of volunteers collect unsold, surplus food that is safe to consume from UCL’s food outlets and deliver it to shelters in thermal bags. Since starting the project in 2018, #ZeroFoodWasteUCL has prevented more than 3,000 meals going to waste.

Being a STEM university, Imperial College where I study is at the forefront of exciting, climate change innovation. In 2019, the university collaborated with Arborea to develop BioSolar Leaf. This technology purifies the air through photosynthesis of microscopic plants and is the first of its kind in the world. The cultivation system can remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen at a rate equivalent to a hundred trees from the surface area of a single tree. Their BioSolar Leaf cultivation system will be piloted at Imperial’s White City Campus and will become the centrepiece for outreach activities with school students.’

The future of the planet is uncertain and young people are right to feel worried. However, there are many reasons for optimism. These inspiring student-led initiatives are an example of the power individuals have when they come together to make real change happen now.   

Jemimah Shaw is an Earth and Planetary Science student at Imperial College London. Her passion for sustainability and climate change activism led her to Carbon Copy, where she recently completed a research internship. Jemimah hopes to pursue a career in environmental law, where she’ll continue to fight for climate justice.

Photo by Ma Ti on Unsplash

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