Burning questions... answered

Confused? We take on common questions that youth have when starting out in environmental action and shed light on a few myths along the way.

Yikes! But I’m only one young person. How can I help tackle such a huge issue?

It’s easy to feel small; the environmental crisis is a monster of an issue. Some people also think that individual actions are meaningless because most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from big corporations. Yes, corporations are responsible, but we, as consumers, are not off the hook. After all, we’re paying for the products and services of these corporations.

So individual actions do matter. Collectively, they make tidal waves of change! The National Youth Climate Change Survey Malaysia showed that over nine out of 10 youths in Malaysia are already taking personal action to reduce their carbon footprint, including reducing, reusing and recycling, planting trees, being conscious of electricity consumption, and changing to a plant-based diet.

Don’t brush these actions off. Through leading by example, you can gradually encourage your family and friends to pick up similar green habits. Then, they can influence others to do the same. With time, imagine the ripple effects your personal action can cause!

You can also amp up your contribution by volunteering or working for an environmental organization. Connecting with other youth environmental leaders to learn from them and exposing yourself to more opportunities in the space can even help alleviate climate anxiety. Where to find them? Start with the YELL directories of environmental organizations and youth environmental leaders!

I’m not 100% green in my daily life yet. Will I be a hypocrite to pursue environmentalism?

Doing what you can is better than not doing anything at all. No one, not even seasoned environmentalists, are totally environmentally friendly.

Yet, every step you make in reducing your carbon footprint, and the challenges you face in doing so, allows you to better understand the realities of environmental work and the problems that need solving. Joining environmental programmes can also guide you on how to do more, effectively!

Can young people really make a difference in environmental work? We don’t really get a say in deciding national policies or worldwide environmental solutions.

Yes, sadly, young people are largely excluded from conversations on climate policies and solutions. Children are also often positioned as victims of climate change, not stakeholders with a seat at the decision-making table.

Still, youth have the potential to make a great impact. In Malaysia, youth account for 43% of the country’s population. They are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which means they can also be the loudest voice to generate societal responses to combat climate change.

Since 2018, world renowned teen activist Greta Thunberg has shown that young people can bring unstoppable momentum to drive pressure for climate action—her one-person protest in front of the Swedish parliament has evolved into a Global Climate Strike involving millions.

In fact, in 2019, 16-year-old Thunberg lambasted world leaders at a UN climate summit for failing to tackle greenhouse gas emissions—proving that age is no barrier for speaking truth to power.

All we hear about is Greta Thunberg. Her European urban background seems so different from mine. Is environmentalism more for Westerners?

Not at all! There are many young environmental heroes from Southeast Asia who may not be as internationally recognized, but have made impressive strides in their fight for a safer future.

One of them is Aroe Ajoeni, co-founder of Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY), who held her own solo environmental protest in front of her college despite warnings from her institution to stop. She went on to help lead the Global Climate Strike in Malaysia.

Sahana Kaur, a 17-year-old Malaysian student, founded Project All for All to empower young people to take part in civic engagement and advance the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Her effort has reached more than 5,000 people around the world.

Mogesh Sababathy, a marine biology graduate , co-founded the ocean conservation NGO Project Ocean Hope that reached more than 10,000 people in 15 countries. Mitzi Jonelle Tan, the international spokesperson for Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, organized several protests despite the hefty risks of being an environmental rights defender in the Philippines—29 were killed in 2020.

You can read the comics of two local youth leaders’ journeys, and more stories in the YELL directories.