In March 2011, when I got out of the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, I was excited. It was my first trip home since I had left Nepal in 2007 to pursue higher education in the United States. My excitement didn't last long. As I got out of the airport, my eyes started to itch. There was a lot of smog in the air compared to 2007. My family and friends confirmed that air pollution had increased.
Three months ago, when I was in Nepal again, catching up with friends, I discovered their concern about air pollution had grown. Some had even decided not to buy cars or motorbikes, but to use public transportation or bikes to avoid contributing to pollution.
It seems that the mindset of my friends roughly reflects the views of youth worldwide. From Nepal to the United States, young people are increasingly mindful of how their behavior impacts the planet.
This generation has different aspirations than its predecessors. Rachel Kyte, vice president of Sustainable Development at the World Bank Group, said that members of the current generation define success in terms of their ability to access resources easily for themselves and for their peers - for instance, bike-sharing programs that allow urban dwellers to easily rent a bike. "You are a global generation," she said when I spoke to her recently to find out how young people can address climate change. She said that the connectedness of young people gave this generation unprecedented power.
Today's young people are "digital natives" who use technology and social media to raise their voice. Kyte emphasized that location-specific device allow users to demand quality of services. Through these devices young people can make common cause global and impact change. Her belief in ability of youth is inspiring.
There are more than 1.2 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24. The world has never before seen this proportion of young people in its documented history. They will inherit a world facing the impacts of climate change.
Earlier this summer, the Bank projected catastrophic consequences of climate change by 2030s if we as a global community fail to act. From Asia to Africa, there will be irreversible consequences. In Sub-Saharan Africa, up to 80% of cropland could become infertile by the 2040s. And we will see an 11% drops in crop production in Vietnam.
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The urgency of climate change is real. It will directly shape our lives. Our employment opportunities, our ability to feed ourselves, our ability to breathe clean air and access energy depend on the people in power and how this generation manages the tradeoff, Kyte said. That is why young people need to be as activist as possible, she believes.
An environmental activist herself in the 1980s, Kyte says climate change is not "about your kids. It's about you." "What would happen to the generation that would come after us and our responsibility to them," she says was the motivating factor for her and her peers in 1980s. "That still has to be the motivating factor for this generation."
While the motivating factor to fight the climate change might not have changed, the global society is now definitely more complex and interconnected than it was three decades ago. For us as a global society to mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to change the way we live our lives and use resources. These changes won't be easy.
But the value shift in young people makes Kyte optimistic about our ability to help the world walk a path to sustainability. I asked Kyte what her advice is for young people.
"Do the courageous thing. If we all do that, then we can make a big difference in a very short period of time."
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