Youth Leadership for a Sustainable Future

Laurel Manley*, Author, Colorado State University, Major in Biology Science and Ecosystem Science & Sustainability and Carol Barbeito* (Photo), Ph.D., Educational Editor, President Earth Protect

“We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.” – Greta Thunberg, UN Youth Climate Summit, 2019

Protests, rallies, and walkouts have become common place in today’s events. A notable group participating in civil discourse and non-violent resistance are youth. From Greta Thunberg to Malala Yousafzai, young people of the world are making headlines in their demand for change. Facing the youth of today is the daunting threat of climate change and the task of transitioning to a sustainable future.

The United Nations has outlined a series of sixteen sustainable development goals to address the needs of humanity and other species. Four of these goals detail the need to consume and produce sustainably, combat the acceleration of climate change, its effects, and protect marine and terrestrial ecosystems (United Nations). To meet these goals, it requires the willingness and cooperation of individuals to initiate change.

Organizations and movements are powerful instigators in initiating widespread, global change. For nonviolent protests to ensure maximum success, scientists have shown that only 3.5% of the population needs to participate in non-violent resistance to cause new behaviors and innovations to be adopted (Chenoweth and Kenneth 2013).

Youth comprise a significant portion of earth’s population. The United Nations estimates that there are 1.8 billion individuals between the age of ten and twenty-four (Edwards). This is twenty-four percent of the entire human population. For these reasons, it is important to include our youth in the involvement of initiating personal, social, and political change. Youth will inevitably end up facing the majority of the consequences of climate change.

Although the voices and opinions of children and young adults are often undervalued and unheard, youth have a vast amount of power. Take Greta Thunberg’s movement, Friday’s Future, which has swept the globe in its goal for youth to speak out against climate change. In this movement, youth skip school on Friday’s to peacefully protest the lack of initiative that is being taken to prevent further global warming. But not everyone has to be Greta Thunberg. While powerful in her own right, the strength of her movement comes from the thousands of youth that participate.

Youth are powerhouses of innovative ideas. They maintain an optimism, passion, and energy that many adults start to lose from the daily hassles of adulthood (Salas). Younger people simply experience and view the world in different ways than their parents. Childhood has the
Photo owned by Earth Protect effect of establishing that any obstacle, no matter how difficult is achievable. This is the kind of resilient attitude that is needed in the fight for a sustainable future. While earlier generations may have experienced the threat of nuclear disaster or the destruction of the ozone layer, young people of this era hold the burden of climate change and the drastic effect it will have on their future. The United Nations published several resolutions with the goal to increase youth participation in global affairs and encourage active engagement (Takavarasha 2018).

Luckily, there are many organizations that lead and encourage youth activism through education, non-violent resistance, and civil engagement. Many of these organizations, such as Sunrise Movement, are almost entirely youth led. I had the opportunity to speak with three of these young activists in my area.

After attending their first rally, these young women chose to get involved in the youth led organization, Sunrise Movement. Once they officially joined, these three high schoolers started a new hub in their area. As a team, they work to raise awareness about climate issues, lead events (such as marches and rallies) and schedule guest speakers.

One of the young women stated, “we are the future, our voices become the forefront, and we have to be heard now because we won’t have time to be heard as adults.” They also explained that “protests are simple and easy ways for our voices to be heard” and that, “this is the last chance and we deserve to be heard since we are the ones to clean it up.”

For young individuals that are of age, voting is the most democratic way for their voice to be heard. Tonyisha, a youth activist with Alliance for Climate Education, describes how the best way for youth to take action is to vote (Tonyisha). An alternative to voting is to write to local lawmakers about problems in the community and changes that can be made.

Youth are the future and ones left with the abysmal state of our current resources and environment. Luckily, modern youth power movements have the ability to change policy and society for a more sustainable and just future.

Laurel Manley: A fourth-year student at Colorado State University studying Biological Science & Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. I love to spend time outside with my dogs and read. I decided to add the Ecosystem Science and Sustainability degree when I saw the overwhelming need that society has as a result of global warming and climate change. In the future, I hope to apply my scientific studies to develop ways that all life on earth can better adapt to the inevitably of a changing climate while and new ways to meet sustainable development goals.

Chenoweth, Erica, and Kenneth Wallace. “The Success of Nonviolent Civil Resistance.” ICNC, Nov. 2013,
Edwards, Steven. “10 Things You Didn’t Know about the World’s Population – Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.” United Nations, United Nations,
“Greta Thunberg Quotes: 10 Famous Lines from Teen Activist – CBBC Newsround.” BBC News, BBC, 25 Sept. 2019,
Salas, Kateri. “The Power of Young People to Change the World.” WYA, World Youth Alliance,
Takavarasha, Mercia. “The Power of Young People as Changemakers.” Generations For Peace, Generations for Peace, 11 Dec. 2018, Tonyisha, director. Climate Justice and Air Pollution in Illinois. Alliance for Climate Education, Alliance for Climate Education,
United Nations. “Home | Department of Economic and Social Affairs.” United Nations, United Nations,

* Laurel Manley, Author, is a 4th year student at Colorado State University with dual majors in Biological Sciences and Ecosystems Science & Sustainability, Intern for Earth Protect, summer 2020
*Carol Barbeito, Ph.D., Education Editor, is President and Managing Director of Earth Protect, with a mission to use film and digital media to engage people in actions leading to a sustainable future


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