The Biden administration has appointed the most diverse collection of cabinet leaders in US history. From Vice President Kamala Harris to Assistant Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to Secretary Deb Haaland, the proverbial glass ceiling has been broken at the national level. Yet, an important collection of voices is still missing from many critical conversations.
Young activists are at the forefront of successful social movements, pushing and stretching the boundaries of civil society. Yet they are often written off as lacking experience and knowledge. History, however, tells a much different story. Young leaders have played an integral role in changing the course of the nation and should continue to be uplifted as powerful drivers of political and social change.
The rise of social media has further elevated the reach of young people, or Future Leaders, as we call them. It gives them larger platforms where they can organize and take action. Empowered with these tools, Future Leaders are uniquely equipped to lead the social and political movements of the moment by using their diverse voices and audiences to directly address today’s challenges.
Amid the immense disruption and suffering of the past year, individuals have become more physically isolated than perhaps ever before. Yet the youngest generations have become even more adept at staying in touch and connected with one another, through social media and other innovative pathways. This adaptability and capacity for communication and reach must be tapped into and uplifted if we are to emerge out of this time into a brighter world.
In mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis, Future Leaders have played an instrumental role in driving change. They must continue to be given the space to lead. From Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future to the Green New Deal and 350.org, young people are organizing themselves in creative ways and spearheading climate action change around the world.
These Future Leaders have recognized the urgency of the crisis and have committed themselves to disrupting the stagnant and faulty systems in place. Rather than trying to work within these broken systems, they have become forces to change them. Future Leaders are unafraid of change and uncompromising in their priorities, knowing they need and deserve a better future—one that does not pose serious health risks, cause catastrophic weather events, or exacerbate environmental inequalities for them and seven generations to come. Complacency is not welcome in the face of the current climate crisis, and Future Leaders are eager to use innovative methods to take climate action and bring about measurable change.
It is this very drive and determination that inspired the Institute’s Energy and Environment Program to launch our Future Leaders Climate Initiative. This initiative aims to support the development of the next generation of climate leaders by inspiring new ideas and challenging traditional perceptions of leadership and solutions to climate change. Through this initiative, we also aim to help Future Leaders build professional networks, share resources, and develop the skills and communication tools necessary to drive action.
We kicked off the initiative in August 2020 with the inaugural Future Leaders Climate Summit, an intensive multi-day gathering of diverse young climate leaders to discuss climate policy, communications, advocacy, and individual action with climate and energy experts of all ages and backgrounds. Designed to inspire Future Leaders to respond to the climate crisis in innovative ways, the sessions guided and helped these young leaders develop the tools and communication skills necessary to effectively drive change in their communities. During the Summit, Future Leaders worked with experts and one another to create recommendations for the greatest problems facing their communities—from mitigating climate change, to adapting to extreme weather events and preparing for a rapidly changing world.
This past January, we launched our Future Leaders Climate: NOW! listserv, an interactive network of climate enthusiasts designed to help early and mid-career professionals build networks and identify potential career paths in climate, energy, environment, and sustainability. Through this global network, we share job opportunities, build community, and host professional development opportunities to help further prepare and broaden the next generation of Future Climate Leaders.
The initiative is also a space where these Future Leaders can share their work. It acts as a platform to amplify their voices. We are especially excited to debut our collection of Earth Day blogs throughout this week, which will feature Future Leaders from the initiative’s network. After this first collection of Earth Day blogs, we hope to continue working with the network to publish new blogs and spotlight their impact monthly.
Without Future Leaders, the status quo would go unchallenged, an outcome that is unacceptable for the planet. Future Leaders have the ability to see the world through fresh eyes. Fighting for their own future, they actively confront climate change and other social injustices instead of futilely hoping that a future technology will save us.
It’s time to stop using the younger generation’s age against them. History has shown that age is not a limiting factor, but one that encourages young leaders to fearlessly mobilize and accelerate action. They may be young in years, but these are the leaders we need to mend our broken society of today so that their tomorrow might be better than we have ever dreamed.