Perspective: Building a Global Community One Generation of Youth at a Time
Since adopting the Paris climate agreement last year, the international community has begun grappling with something of a paradox: an objective that is global in aspiration – a livable world – and a piecemeal system of implementation, resting on the jigsaw collection of “intended nationally determined contributions.”
The tension between these two can be addressed through the agreement’s core observation that “climate change is a common concern of humankind.” Understanding of the practical implications of this shared condition has indeed been growing, if sometimes seemingly only by fits and starts.
In this light, further progress will depend on youth and young people, and the attitudes they will form in the coming years.
The universal nature of climate change guarantees that, at the end of the day, there can be no “I,” but only one planetary “we.” Stark differences in the circumstances facing various areas can of course be seen on shorter timelines, with countries that hold the least responsibility for climate change often bearing the brunt of its most damaging effects. But on scales as short as a handful of decades, limited loyalties to ethnic groups, income brackets, or religious affiliations fade to insignificance before the simple reality that we are all fellow passengers on the same blue-green lifeboat.
Imagery like this can all too easily be thrown around in ways that are shallow or superficial. Translating the underlying concepts into practical realities when hard choices must be made is another thing altogether. How does awareness of the fundamental oneness of humankind lead to more constructive and inclusive decision-making? How does it help foster qualities such as the capacity to sacrifice for the well-being of the whole? To find contentment? To give freely and generously to others?
These are normative and moral questions. They arise from our most deeply cherished beliefs and values, and have as much to do with our hearts as our heads, with our spirit as much as our intellect. To truly work together toward one global goal, we must therefore not merely acknowledge that we share a common destiny. We must actually care about the other members of our human family – and care about them dearly enough that we are willing to consider giving up some of what we have to benefit others.
Such an all-embracing sense of solidarity can certainly be fostered among those who are shaping world affairs today. Yet building new patterns of global interaction and cooperation will ultimately depend on instilling the necessary values and views in the rising generations. Youth must be assisted, systematically and reliably, to develop the capacities that will be needed to sustain an ever-advancing global community.
They must learn how to build consensus around shared values and priorities. How to forge a shared vision of the future and pursue it through acts of collective volition. How to value differences of opinion and build on differences of background. Training of this kind must, moreover, support young people’s resolve to make the sustainable advancement of civilization a personal concern and become as occupied with the well-being of the entire human family as they are of their dearest kin.
Put simply, the work of combatting climate change will increasingly need to be the work of preparing society’s youngest members. It should be noted, however, that more established generations will have much to learn from younger ones in many cases. Young people might well provide the example to follow in areas such as constructively accepting criticism from others or working collaboratively in diverse environments.
Laudable efforts have been undertaken in the specific realm of global citizenship education. Sustainable Development Goal 4.7 considers education for global citizenship as part of the “knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.” A growing number of events and spaces are similarly focusing on various aspects of education for global citizenship. These efforts must continue and expand. But they must also be understood as just one aspect of the much wider process of society as a whole taking an increasingly active role in the moral and ethical formation of the coming generations.
Taken in their entirety, such efforts aim to raise up cohorts of youth and young adults who are increasingly capable of taking constructive, unified action on pressing issues of climate change – and often across wide cultural differences. This is a very human process, and those working on environmental issues must therefore guard against over-reliance on technical and technocratic interventions. It is true that reform of policies and structures will be critical in setting humanity on a more sustainable path to the future. Yet the construction of truly sustainable societies will call for individuals, communities, and institutions to develop fundamentally new understandings of themselves and their relationship with the natural environment. As the Bahá’í International Community wrote to those gathered at Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21):
[U]ltimately it is people, whatever their role or place in society, who implement the policies of a central administration or ignore them, who participate in well-conceived programs or continue patterns of life as before… Establishing sustainable patterns of individual and collective life will therefore require not only new technologies, but also a new consciousness in human beings, including a new conception of ourselves and our place in the world.
-- Serik Tokbolat, Representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the United Nations