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Answering Greta's Call with Action

This article was previously published on The Jakarta Post.

“Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity for a very small number of people to continue making enormous amount of money. It is the sufferings of the many that pay for the luxuries of the few. We cannot solve the crisis without treating it like a crisis. The real power belongs to the people."

That statement was delivered by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old Swedish who inspire the Fridays for Future Climate Strike, a movement to skip schools on Friday to strike, pushing the government to urgently act on climate change. This movement sees many critics, but it might signal that climate is already in a very dangerous state.

The strikes are now happening in more than 71 countries and 700 places, with thousands of students took to the street, from Sweden, United Kingdom to South Korea. What about Indonesia?

In Indonesia, Greenpeace said only a handful of students showed up to strike. There could be several reasons for this: we don’t hear much about the movement, we hear about the movement but school classes are too important to skip, or perhaps, we simply don’t care.

Why strike for climate?

The fact that Indonesia is the 4th largest emitter in the world should make us concerned. We’re home to the third-largest forests in the world that provide clean air, clean water, food, commodities, prevent flooding and landslides, as well as store carbon – but deforestation takes place at a fast pace.

The massive use of coal for electrification and energy has caused residents to suffer from air pollution-related diseases. Palm oil, present in our everyday products from soap to jam, is often produced through non-environmentally friendly measures.

But people always refrain from conserving natural resources due to the assumption of trade-off between economic growth and environmental conservation. The latest study on low carbon development from the Indonesia’s Ministry of Development Planning (BAPPENAS), however, proves such assumption wrong.

The study suggests that Indonesia can grow its economy to 6% per year (larger than the current growth) while slashing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030, exceeding its emissions reduction goal stated in NDC. This means that it is entirely possible and profitable to tackle climate change economy-wise.

Where do Indonesian youth stand?

Movements in Indonesia to stand for natural resources and climate change are on the rise, starting from Hutan itu Indonesia (Forest is Indonesia), which spreads positive stories about forests, Climate Reality Project that educates the public about the reality of climate change and promote solutions, to Bye Bye Plastic Bags, initiated by teenager sisters that work toward eliminating plastic in Bali. Many prominent individuals have also started to voicing their concern on the ocean, green lifestyle, the use of non-plastic straws and bags, and more. This has been a promising start, but the number we have now is not enough.

A Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) survey on Indonesian voters suggested that compared to economy and social welfare, environmental issues are not considered urgent. Only 1.63 percent of the respondents stated that environment was a pressing issue.

That said, the World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia’s perception survey to 18-40 year-old urban residents in Jakarta, Pekanbaru and Palembang suggested that in terms of knowledge, more than 70 percent of respondents are able to link the impact of climate change on disasters and the degraded quality of life. Those within 31-40 range of age pay more attention to environmental issues compared to those 18-30 years old, suggesting that more efforts must be done to reach out to youth.

What is worrying from the survey is that 50 percent of respondents mentioned that environmental issues and climate change were mostly the responsibility of government and NGOs, not theirs.

That’s why we need to think more about our approach

Target the youth. Previous research noted that aside from its big size, this segment is vocal on social media, which politicians and government pay attention to. This segment also represents future leaders.

We can start by talking about environmental issues through something we practice in our everyday life. We compete for natural resources for things we eat, things we use, and things we wear. For the latter, for instance, it might be unknown to us that it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt, enough water for one person to drink for two-and-a-half years.

Concerted efforts are needed by organizations and individuals to make environmental issues resonate with youth, creating room for these youth to contribute. WRI Indonesia’s perception survey, again, suggests that two major barriers preventing youth to act include thoughts that they need support from the government and that none of the people they know participated.

For active youth, building a new audience and expanding to non-environmentalist groups is important. The government must do its part as well. For instance, government can improve and include education materials on the importance of natural resources that resonate with elementary, junior high and senior high schools.

The teaching materials can be developed based on the basic competence and core competence of our existing national curriculum. This way, teachers can help instill familiarity of natural resources and the urgency of climate change amongst youth.

Finally, answering Greta’s call, we need to convince youth about what they are capable of, that they have power and that they too have great responsibility in making the earth a livable place.

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