In March 2009 twenty-two-year-old college student Shadia Wood stood in front of a white board, sketching ideas for a project she believes may one day save the world. Her creation, Project Survival Media, which now encompasses over ninety like-minded youth volunteers hailing from every continent, provides a glimpse into the possible future of media - a future where citizen journalists from around the world band together using New Media platforms to create change on a global scale.
"I think it's important for young people to look at the state the world is in right now and see that these large media monopolies aren't doing their job," Wood told me during an interview conducted via Skype, a downloadable communication application that allows users to talk for free using the internet. "We are the ones who, in ten or twenty years, are going to be fixing these problems."
Wood is on the frontlines of the Youth Climate Movement, an international coalition of youth organizations dedicated to waging war against climate change. Although the actual size of the movement is difficult to map, one thing is for certain: it's big - and it's growing.
The Youth Climate Movement has around 1,700 chapters on U.S. college campuses alone. In November 2007 the U.S.-based Energy Action Coalition (consisting of 50 student and youth environmental and advocacy organizations) brought more than 6,000 young activists together in the Washington D.C. area for the United State's first-ever national youth conference to solve the climate crisis. In February 2009 the movement reconvened under the name Power Shift, this time drawing over 10,000 young people.
From India to Japan, members of the Youth Climate Movement are organizing national conferences. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition organized the country's first-ever national youth climate summit in July 2009, drawing several hundred. After three days of attending workshops and trainings at their own youth climate summit, hundreds of members of the UK Youth Climate Coalition made headlines when they broke out in a choreographed dance routine in front of the London Eye.
October 24, 2009 brought the 350.org international day of climate action, a movement that was powered, in large part, by young people around the world. In Addis Ababa 10,000 students planted trees; across India, hundreds of schoolchildren spelled out '350' with their bodies. On the same day, in Kabul, the Environment Minister of Afghanistan and other senior officials joined youth environmental organizers in the first grassroots-mobilizing event on climate change in the country's history.
"The international youth climate movement has grown rapidly, from being an occasional and token group at climate negotiations, to a network of hundreds of organizations and leaders in hundreds of nations," says twenty-six-year-old journalist and climate activist Richard Graves.
For the last two years Graves has managed the website itsgettinghotinhere.org, which was launched in 2005 to serve as a forum for youth to report from the International Climate Negotiations in Montreal. The website has since grown into a global online community, with over 300 youth journalists contributing from countries around the world. Graves claims readership on the site is now in excess of a million each year.
The United Nations officially considers anyone below the age of 27 (a full forty-eight percent of the world population) a youth. And with social media technologies allowing free international communication on a real-time basis, young people across the world are beginning to see that, when unified behind a common cause, they can become a global political force to be reckoned with.
From Africa to Australia young people are organizing vast networks to fight the global threat of climate change. Google is bursting with them: the Russian Youth Climate Movement; the Nordic Youth Climate Action Movement; the South American Youth Climate Coalition; the Caribbean Youth Environmental Network. Last year the Indian Youth Climate Network trained 2,800 new young people; the Ghana National Youth Coalition on Climate Change spans every region in the country; and the South Asia Youth Environment Network encompasses over 1,500 youth organizations from Afghanistan to Nepal. The list goes on and on.
The Youth Climate Movement has a streamlined organizational structure connecting grassroots, national and international organizations. Each Climate Coalition or Climate Network is affiliated to a regional or continental movement. Together, these local, national and continental organizations form the Youth Climate Movement.
In December 2008 Wood organized a team of four media-makers to attend the U.N. climate negotiations in Poland as part of a youth delegation totaling nearly 500 people. While there she realized the potential bargaining power that young people, the inheritors of climate change, could wield as a unified front in the fight for a global environmental treaty. Three months later she designed Project Survival Media.
Project Survival Media is a collaborative global network of young journalists using video, social media, photography, and blogs to report from the front lines of the climate crisis. And their message is simple: Survival is Not Negotiable. Wood and her global partners have assembled seven New Media teams, one on each continent, to report on the most compelling climate stories from around the world. They plan on presenting these media packages during the December 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, an event organized to establish an international treaty to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
One of the most compelling things about Project Survival Media is its scope. After receiving some initial project funding from family and friends, Wood tapped fifteen different team leaders in eleven different regions across the world to help lead her operation. Utilizing the team leaders' networks, she was able to distribute applications for youth journalists and activists interested in joining her organization.
"Our application got picked up by different Asian news media networks and African news media networks - all over the place," says Wood. "We received 200 applicants from all over the world."
She narrowed the pool down to the best 93 young applicants (from all seven continents) then put them to work pursuing the most important climate stories in their particular regions.
The structure of Project Survival Media is beautiful in its simplicity. Each team leader is the head of Project Survival Media in his or her own country or region. The leader is responsible for sending team members (a typical team is comprised of ten people) out on assignments, then editing their work before sending it along to Wood's U.S. team, who compiles it into individual media packages that will then be shown to world leaders at the climate convention in Copenhagen.
In addition to preparing media presentations prior to going to Copenhagen, Project Survival Media representatives will also be writing blog reports and sending live, up-to-the-minute updates from the convention using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Project Survival Media team members are not localized. Instead, they operate throughout each leader's country, or region, in order to maximize coverage. By utilizing citizen journalists instead of paid correspondents, Project Survival Media is able to cover more ground than most traditional media outlets. And when you are willing to utilize citizen journalists instead of paid news correspondents you realize that your people are, in fact, embedded everywhere.
"Citizen journalism on the international stage is incredibly needed at the moment," says twenty-three-year-old Madeline Kovacs, assistant producer for Fired Up Media, central coordinator with Project Survival Media, and Wood's right hand. "With Project Survival Media we have a network of youth who are producing these media projects on every continent. That's a very different model than me taking one video and posting it on one blog in one country."
Kovacs believes that the international youth delegation as a hub is a different delegation than any other that will be present at the convention because the youths know just how much of a stake they have in the outcome of the negotiations.
"To take [observations] from a global youth perspective and then capture it as citizen journalists and return it to every country, which those youths are from, that's a really unified voice that we're speaking with. And it's a very powerful voice," says Kovacs. "It's a very different model than you see country-by-country or newspaper-by-newspaper."
In Copenhagen, the content that Project Survival Media is gathering will be broken down by region to maximize its effectiveness as a lobbying tool. Wood and Kovacs will be teaming up with the International Youth Delegation to provide media that can be utilized by its many affiliates.
"For example, the U.K. Delegation will be there so we'll schedule a meeting with their national delegate," says Wood. "After that meeting the UK delegation can take our Europe team's video and show it to their representative."
The Youth Climate Movement, though under-reported, should not be underestimated. Their leaders are pioneering the organization models for grassroots political movements on the global stage. It wouldn't be surprising if one of the major unexpected side effects of climate change turned out to be the creation of an international subculture of young people linked by a shared ideology and united across international boundaries by social media. They are changing the way the world communicates. Just think of the political power that might translate into.
All said, over 1,000 accredited young people are expected to show up and be welcomed at the U.N. climate convention in December. But Wood told me that hundreds, possibly thousands more would make their way to Copenhagen to show support any way they know how - including by sitting outside and serving organic food to conference attendees.
"We're able to come together at the United Nations and work in working groups -- whether it's communications or actions or policy -- and really formulate these plans in a platform to come together and unify around," says Kovacs, "which in a lot of ways is what our world leaders are trying to do."
But for now, international politics is indifferent to the voice of youth. This weekend U.S. President Barack Obama joined over twenty other world leaders in formal agreement that the Copenhagen climate conference will not yield a conclusive global treaty to fight global warming. It is hoped that the conference, which will still go on as scheduled, will instead result in "politically-binding" agreements that will help shape the policies for a future treaty.
Regardless of the decision to abandon the treaty-making process, young people, who feel the dire urgency of climate change more than any other generation, will travel from all over the world and descend upon the Copenhagen convention as one. United, they will stand together in solidarity to demand a global climate treaty that they believe is essential to the survival of the human race.