Earth Day Reflection: Making Every Person Part of the Solution
In the past, when hearty shoots of spring flowers sprouted outside my front door, I took comfort in the resilience of nature, welcoming this season of renewal. But this year was different. The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report offered a sobering view of the future should we collectively fail to act on global warming. Humanity faces a crisis situation with 15 years, at best, to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the costs become overwhelming.
Then I realized I had a choice: give into a growing sense of despair or find something to feel hopeful about. Human behavior experts, after all, tell us that climate change forecasts that induce fear and are not as effective as solution-oriented communications when it comes to mobilizing citizens to take action. Given humankind’s inability to face the long-term consequences of its actions, clearly we need both: the impetus of urgency combined with a compelling vision of what a more sustainable world would be like.
With this in mind, I began surfing the YouthActionNet® website for reminders of the green pioneers I’ve come to know and admire. In the gamble that is our global environmental future, these young change leaders—and others like them—offer not only grassroots solutions but a new set of values to live by. Consistently, they emphasize meaning over materialism, sustainability over growth, collaboration over competition, and collective good over individual gain. Through their eyes, sustainable living isn’t just about sacrifice and doing with less, it’s about building stronger communities, living more creatively, and valuing relationships and activities that ultimately offer deeper satisfaction than an all-out consumer culture.
In the face of short-sighted policies and the sheer scale of the problem, their solutions empower individuals and communities with concrete actions they can take—now—to build a better future. Take Pablo Alvestegui who co-founded A-dedo (in English, Hitchhiking) in Chile. A-dedo leverages the power of technology to facilitate ride-sharing, thereby reducing traffic congestion, carbon emissions, and fuel consumption. For its customers, time in the car is spent nurturing relationships, as opposed to road rage. As is the case with many of the social ventures launched by YouthActionNet fellows, Pablo and his peers offer a multi-faceted response, tackling more than one problem at a time.
Enabling individuals to be part of the solution is also at the heart Ethical Electric’s mission. Co-founded by fellow Richard Graves, the company offers homeowners and businesses in the U.S. the option of 100% clean energy from renewable sources like wind and solar. But that’s not all, a portion of its profits go to supporting campaigns that advance equality, peace, justice, and opportunity. Its tagline says it all: “You have the power.”
For Kevin Morgan-Rothschild who launched VertiFarms in New Orleans, USA sustainability means promoting greater local self-reliance. VertiFarms installs aeroponic gardens enabling plants to grow in a water and nutrient-enriched solution on rooftops and at schools and commercial enterprises. Its approach not only uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture but reduces carbon emissions through eliminating the need for produce to travel long distances.
And then there’s Aysu Erdoğdu who co-created the Library of Stuff in Turkey. Through the project’s website, people advertise items they are willing to loan or trade. Says Aysu, “We wanted to revive a gift culture that’s long been forgotten. Those who remember the sharing culture eventually become richer in life.” Also in Turkey, Aysegul Guzel started Zumbara (Time Bank) to enable individuals to exchange services without the use of money. Through Zumbara, individuals trade services and acts of goodwill, thereby emphasizing the value of time, reciprocity, and relationships.
The YouthActionNet community is filled with hundreds of examples of young leaders like these who are creating the foundations of a more sustainable present and future. While the problems they address are big, they get that the answer lies in making everyone part of the solution. Their spheres of influence are growing, not through emphasizing what is wrong, but through the compelling nature of their solutions.
According to Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the ability to “lean into and presence an emerging future is probably the single most important leadership capacity today.” The young visionaries we are privileged to support already have one foot in the future they’re trying to create. Their message is simple: “Join us. We’ll take you there.”