A sustainable future and human survival depend on climate action and environmental stewardship. And while environmental sustainability is an issue of concern for all of us, it’s perhaps most pressing for youth who will inherit the challenges that adults today fail to address adequately.
But youth shouldn’t have to wait to sit at the table or lead the table. Katia Bannister, a youth climate activist and community organizer from Thetis Island, British Columbia, presented at our Vibrant Voices advocacy webinar Our Earth, our responsibility: Take action. As she shared, youth have been leading in the climate movement for many years. However, they don’t hold the decision-making power at the highest, most influential levels. And they’re not automatically included, even though their futures are intrinsically tied to the decisions made by adults.
You can help make sure all voices are represented as we chart a course forward to a more sustainable, equitable and just future for everyone. Katia shared her insights on facilitating intergenerational collaboration during the webinar. Her advice is relevant whether you’re involved with a small non-profit or grassroots environmental effort or part of sustainability work within a corporation, government or education system, or larger NGO. We’ve summarized her tips below.
Building intergenerational relationships can help prevent and address ageism. This is important because ageism can create barriers for intergenerational collaboration, particularly when it comes to climate action. The prejudices youth and older adults may have about each other can be used to polarize and alienate people from across the age spectrum. For example, there may be unfair assumptions that youth aren’t interested in climate justice or that they are lazy or not passionate or knowledgeable about the topics. Or, youth may think of older adults as too old and irrelevant or believe they need to remove themselves to make space for young people.
Be aware these stereotypes exist and call-out (when necessary) or call-in individuals who you hear voicing the stereotypes. You can say, “I’m surprised to hear you say that. It sounds like you’re suggesting we have nothing to learn from that person because they’re younger/older. Is that what you meant?” Notice your own biases. Work to be an ally to youth or older adults so that all voices are part of the conversation.
Ensure there are opportunities for youth to add their voices and that those opportunities are accessible—for example, at times and in locations that work for youth. This could mean offering transportation, ensuring meetings take place outside school hours and providing mentorship to help youth at the table feel comfortable and included as they raise their issues and ideas.
Adults can’t represent the youth perspective – youth need to be invited to the table and given an equal role. If you’re part of a committee or project focused on environmental action, be a youth ally. Suggest that youth be involved in the effort. Create opportunities for youth to bring forward concerns. Watch for dismissiveness or disrespect among your colleagues and counterparts and address it. Push to ensure youth are involved in the entire conversation and challenge assumptions that youth may not understand concepts or problems fully. Advocate for respect and help to frame challenges so they are clear for everyone at the table.
It is essential to create space for youth voices, and it’s equally important to make sure that intergenerational support systems are set up. Youth involvement isn’t a checkbox – you’re not simply meeting a quota – the goal is to bring diverse perspectives to the table to move forward together. Solutions are often found at the intersections of experience and knowledge, and so when you create a new, diverse mix of people, innovative, collaborative thinking can emerge—and isn’t that what we need now?
Katia Bannister is an eighteen-year-old community organizer from Thetis Island, British Columbia — the unceded territories of the Coast Salish and Hul’q’umi’num Speaking People. Known from her past work with the Cowichan Valley Earth Guardians crew, Vote16BC Campaign, Canadian Freshwater Alliance — as well as various other people-powered, and action-centric organizations in our province — Katia is now working with the University of Victoria Sustainability Project and UVic Ecological Restoration Club to connect people to place, and inspire community-led environmental action as she completes her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Victoria. When she’s not studying, Katia revels in getting her hands dirty and doing ecological restoration work, using her photography skills to document tangible actions taking place in her community, and writing about her advocacy and community work on her blog. You can find Katia on Instagram @katiabannister.