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Green Horizons: Reflections on Working in the Environmental Field as a Youth

By Thibault Le pivain, Climate Action and Environmental Advocate


Raphstreng Glacial Lake in Bhutan with SDG 13. Credit: UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo.
Raphstreng Glacial Lake in Bhutan with SDG 13. Credit: UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

Working in the environmental field evokes a complex mix of conviction and conflict, stirring feelings of both righteousness and unease. Climate change is arguably the most significant crisis of our time and engaging in projects that address it imbues a sense of pride and purpose. At the same time, being at the forefront of witnessing what the world might resemble by the turn of the century, coupled with lagging global efforts, elicits emotions of anxiety and powerlessness. The work we do often feels modestly positive.


Uncovering underreported wins amidst eco-anxiety


A growing number of young people are suffering from eco-anxiety as awareness and anxiety become intertwined. In fact, a global study published by The Lancet, which surveyed 10,000 youths across 10 countries, reported that 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.


Working in the environmental field can bring oxygen, in my experience, as it allows one to uncover positive environmental changes that are seldom featured in mainstream media. For instance, a climate action project I was involved in while living in Bangkok, Thailand has reduced emissions in Bhutan's transport sector. Through this endeavor, I have learned that Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world that absorbs more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than it produces. This is primarily attributed to extensive forests that are legally protected to cover a minimum of 60% of the country's territory under the constitution.


Bhutan has even committed to remain carbon neutral indefinitely in its second Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) with assistance from an initiative named Climate Promise, which is the world’s largest offer of support to developing countries on NDCs.


The dichotomy of climate action: local progress versus global disparities


Visual representation illustrating the projected rise of temperatures for different generations. Source: Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (p7)
Visual representation illustrating the projected rise of temperatures for different generations. Source: Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (p7)

However, the positive mindset fostered by environmental organizations to drive transformative changes inevitably faces the grim realities presented in the news. Recently, it was revealed that global warming has caused temperatures to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius over a 12-month period. Sadly, we know that this record will be shattered in the future, again and again.


A transition to a low carbon economy is initiated in response to the rapid rise in temperatures but how long will it take and how much natural resources will be required considering the fast-paced development of a world that is projected to accommodate 10 billion people by 2050? The quantity of metals to extract over the next 35 years - with adverse environmental consequences - is expected to surpass the cumulative quantity produced from antiquity to date.


To facilitate that shift, global investment in the low-carbon energy transition is experiencing a remarkable surge. In 2022, it reached a total of $1.1 trillion, marking a substantial 31% increase from the previous year. Yet, this level of investment merely matches the amount invested in fossil fuels.


Amidst these challenges, we see the emergence of de-growth movements advocating for a systemic change but they are primarily active in the Western world, which bears responsibility for half of all historical CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, other countries are now able to focus on developing their economy and uplifting a portion of their population out of poverty.


There is also an emotional toll accompanying this predicament. Wild mammals now account for a mere 4% of the world's mammal population, and an alarming 1 million species face the threat of extinction. When a species goes extinct, it takes with it a wealth of unique properties that have been tested in countless experiments over millions of years of evolution.


Finding equilibrium as a young person


Thibault Le Pivain, Climate Change and Environmental Advocate
Thibault Le pivain, Climate Action and Environmental Advocate

Personally, I try to find solace in the belief that we are likely living in one of the most captivating eras in human history to date.

 

I believe that young people, because they are destined to experience the entirety of the twenty-first century, have a greater interest in creating a habitable future for our planet and have less to lose in changing the existing establishments and systems where they are often underrepresented.

 

Over the past seven years spent in the Asia-Pacific region, I've witnessed changes led by the younger generation: from Vanuatu's youth pushing for a resolution for an ICJ legal opinion on climate obligations, to environmental protests for indigenous rights, and to regional initiatives like the Movers Programme, which rallied 165,000 youth participants for sustainable development.

 

It appears that young individuals are more inclined to extend the climate cause beyond workplace boundaries and it's the extra time spent voicing concerns on social media, combating political apathy, or altering one's lifestyle that could catalyze societal shifts towards addressing the global environmental crisis.

 

If worse comes to worst and things become overwhelming as they sometimes do, nature - for me the ocean in particular - provides a comforting refuge. Ralph Waldo Emerson viewed nature as a conduit between oneself and a higher form of wisdom. As he once said, "when it is dark enough, you can see the stars."

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