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SHEIKH: Give yourself reasons to care about our future

Investing in the future is critical for all young people who plan on living through it.
Photo by Photo by Wikimedia | The Daily TargumInvesting in the future is critical for all young people who plan on living through it.

People need to be invested in their futures to pour themselves into them fully. To maintain a sufficient level of effort and attention, a person has to be exposed to both the positive and negative sides of risk. 

The people most affected by a long-term problem are the ones who will survive to experience its effects. Climate change is in motion, and while it does have effects right now, the more critical and calamitous part of its threat will emerge decades down the line. 

So disconnecting ourselves from our reality is not the solution. The problem is enormous and our society is set up to safeguard itself from change for the sake of anything other than money. 

Young people are the ones most deeply involved in climate change, because we will live to see and feel the effects more than anyone else in our societies. We are the ones with skin in the game, the ones who have to care about the future, so it is up to us to make that future livable.

Some of the most persuasive, scientific evidence of climate change happening right now includes rising sea levels, increasingly common natural disasters and ocean acidification and decreasing ice sheets in Greenland, Antarctic and the Arctic. To pick one alarming statistic out of the topic, the lands of Greenland and Antarctica lost an average of 286,000,000,000 tons of ice every year. Since 2014, we have seen the five warmest years in recorded history. 

The physical and mental health of young people is affected by climate change. The majority of children live outside of high-income countries, which are also places that are more susceptible to the effects of climate change. Some of the effects of climate change on children are disruptions to clean water, clean air and adequate food, as well as increased rates of malnutrition, heat-related illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder and violence within their communities and households. 

A survey of Australians, between seven and 25 years old, found that 96 percent thought of climate change as a serious problem. Approximately 60 percent of the respondents thought their government was not prioritizing or acting on climate change seriously enough. There is currently a lack of research on young people’s perceptions of climate change and how to guide us through thinking about this problem.

Even if there is little research, there are real world indicators of the divestment of young people from their future. Decreases in voting rates and birth rates do mark drops in population-level attention to the future and investment in the future.

The rate at which youths in the United States votes has been on a downward trend for decades. Between 1964 and 2012, the voting rate for the youth dropped approximately 12 percent (from 50.9 percent to 38 percent). The proportion of registered youth is always higher than the proportion who is voting.

In 1950, the global birth rate was 4.7 which means that women would have, on average, 4.7 children during their lifetime. The global birth rate was 2.4 in 2017. It is predicted that there will be a birth rate below 1.7 in 2100. For context, a stable population has a birth rate of 2.1 children, which is enough to replenish the population and account for sterility and child mortality.

One of the effects of a lessened birth rate is that there is less mental, financial and emotional investment in the future by young people. Caring for children and grandchildren is one way to invest one’s energy in the future of the planet. Climate change affects children more drastically and they are going to be alive to see the effects of climate change. If young people today are not having children, that means they have less skin in the game regarding the future — it simply matters less to them what happens.

Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer on how to proceed from here per individual. The solutions to climate change are well known and well studied. The solutions to our personal struggles in a changing world are much more complicated and personal. 

The only advice I have to offer is to maintain skin in the game. As long as each person gives themselves a reason to care about their world and their future, it will be much easier to bring about the enormous changes we need.

Mustafa Sheikh is an Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior majoring in public health and minoring in biology. His column, "From the Mountaintop," runs on alternate Fridays.

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