Sustainability in the Eyes of the Youth



On 29 November 2016, I was invited by Institute Of Strategic & International Studies (ISIS) to be one of the young panelists for a discussion about sustainability. The discussion was a part of a book launch program.

Since the topic was so interesting and rare, I grabbed the opportunity.

The thing is, when we talk about sustainability in the eyes of the youth, we have to realize that it is not one of the top topics the youth discussed. I know that because after 5 years of being a public speaker in Malaysian universities, I can only recall 1 time where the environment is the main topic and that was back in 2012.

Most of the times, the youth are discussing about topics regarding their future such as love, education, and career. This is not to say that the youths are selfish. No. They are insecure and afraid. In other words, the youth are preoccupied about their own survival in this seemingly scary world.

If you refer to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, survival is the lowest 2 of all our needs. When you are thinking about surviving, everything else becomes secondary. The youth now is feeling insecure about themselves and about their future (their future love life, their future educational achievements, and their future career status).

So, I believe our immediate course of action should be on developing the self-confidence in these youths and it should be done primarily in two places: in the homes and in the schools. Why? Because for most youths, these two places are the first two places they refer to when they want to figure out the world.

If in these two places, they are not being empowered to harness their uniqueness and potential, to become a confident individual, then it is difficult for them to start thinking about other things outside of their immediate surrounding.

If you go and interact with our youths, many of them are too preoccupied with their exam results and they can go into bouts of depression because of it. They’re too insecure thinking about surviving than to think about sustainability. They’re preoccupied with their future and not the future.

Sustainability is about the future and it cannot survive on the backs of insecure people. Sustainability is about going against the status quo of being dependent on fossil fuels, about possibly having to pay more to get sustainable options, and most importantly, it is about going against the big giants who want to keep us addicted to fossil fuels.

Elon Musk’s car company, Tesla, is a great example of this. Much of the things Tesla did were unorthodox and it was unlikely that they will succeed. But because they’re confident about their mission to promote sustainability, they persevered and now they are in the forefront of the sustainability movement.

The sustainability movement is rosy in its slogans, but it can’t survive by feeding on slogans alone. It requires well-educated, well-versed, and confident youths to keep the movement going.

It has to start there.

Photo credit: ISIS

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