The Audacity of Youth to Solve Climate Change

Originally published on Medium for Smart Prosperity on April 22, 2016

Today is a truly historic Earth Day! World leaders are gathering in New York City to sign the Paris Agreement that was reached at COP21 this past December. It is expected that over 170 countries will sign on to the accord and this is an important step in our global battle against climate change. As a young Canadian, I am proud that our Federal leaders are not only supporting but also actively enabling this kind of progress.

Climate change is an issue that has implications for every person on the planet but it disproportionately affects future generations, indigenous people, and those living in poverty. This makes it just as much about justice as it is about the environment.

That is why I am thrilled that Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna, invited me and my fellow Smart Prosperityleader Merrell-Ann Phare from the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources to participate in a solutions-focused discussion about how Canada will tackle climate change (if you missed it watch here).

Bringing diverse voices to the table is crucial to creating solutions to systemic challenges and I believe youth and indigenous people will have a key role to play in the transition to a sustainable future.

I have spent the majority of my career working with young people and students in the energy system and what I have found is that youth are innately aware of the fact that they will be in leadership positions when climate change impacts will be most prevalent.

Young people want to be active in shaping the future that will be handed to them. The beauty of youth is that it has a wonderful naivety and optimism that makes anything possible. We are not satisfied with rhetoric that pits the environment against the economy or says “it can’t be done.” One of my favourite quotes: “the best part of being young is that we are too young to know we can’t possibly do the things we are already doing.”

Yes, young people lack deep experience, which can only be earned with time. But they also lack the fear of failure and the cynicism that can come from working on these challenging issues for decades. To me, this is the power of youth and why engaging in an intergenerational conversation on sustainable development is crucial.

So what are youth in Canada doing to shape their future?

Well, this blog isn’t long enough for me to write a complete list of all the amazing companies they are starting, research they are engaging in or community groups they are running. Here are just a few examples of some of the innovations I have seen from young Canadians that show that big ideas are possible:

  • Xavier Gordon runs Xergy, a full service project development company for solar PV systems that is about to expand to EV charging infrastructure.
  • David Berliner created Copower to offer innovative financial products for funding clean energy. The company just fully subscribed their first ever green bond!
  • At 18, Bruce Gao invented a software that increases the efficiency of solar PV systems in the developing world known as SimplySolar.
  • Dan Lafferty founded Relight to deploy LED lighting solutions to commercial clients in order to save them energy and money.
  • Eden Full founded SunSaluter while in high school. The innovative technology simultaneously purifies water and creates energy by using the power of gravity and a unique design.

What is your audacious idea? Tell Canada.

The Government of Canada has created a portal for submitting solutions that you can access at www.canada.ca/climateaction and I would encourage everyone — of every age — to submit their ideas.

Canada has a big challenge ahead of us to reduce our emissions and create innovations that will help other countries to do the same. The good news is we also have all the potential in the world, from vast natural resources to deep knowledge and talent to a frontier blazing spirit. Together we can shape the future we want.