With COP26 on the horizon this November, world leaders will gather in Glasgow to discuss climate change and accelerate vital action towards the goals previously outlined in the Paris Agreement. Should these collaborative efforts fall short however, it will not be the decision makers who will be affected the most, but instead the planet’s young people who will live with the consequences of such inaction. At the Museum we are working hard to empower young people to speak about their views on the planetary emergency and listen to what they are telling us.
In fact, at COP26 we are putting young people front and centre to lead Voice of Youth talks at The Nature Bar within The New York Times Climate Hub, a space we are working with our Ambassador David de Rothschild and his organisation Voice for Nature to run. What do young people have to say about the situation we are in and what changes would they make?
Listening to young people is essential
It’s evident that young people have a lot to say and we have a lot to learn from them. From their frustration at the speed in which change is happening, to their own efforts in reversing climate change.
Later this month on 28 October we look forward to live streaming an event led by young people, ‘Small Voices, Big Planet’ as part of our Lates Online series. A panel of 9–13-year-olds will be coming together with the Museum’s Science Communicator Cristina Torrente to discuss what matters to them about the state of our planet and the effects that their generation will suffer in the future if we don’t act now.
Climate change, biodiversity loss, plastic pollution – a lot of young people feel understandably drowning in a sea of what seems to be planetary doom. Just last month, a global survey found the depths of fear many young people are experiencing about change with 75% saying they thought the future was frightening.
It’s a subject we zeroed in on as part of Our Broken Planet online events programme. Activist Clover Hogan and Climate Psychology Researcher Caroline Hickmann discussed eco-anxiety and climate grief in young people, exploring why young people can feel this way, and how to turn ecological grief into determination to make positive change for the future of our planet.
Another online Our Broken Planet interactive event provided practical steps we can take to avoiding the polluting pitfalls of fast fashion. The workshop led by Fernanda Simon, Director of Fashion Revolution Brazil, as well as Sustainability Editor of Vogue Brazil and Ethical influencer Style & Sustain blogger Amma Aburam helped attendees breathe new life into old clothes, something which has never been so important considering over 85% of all textiles end up in landfill each year and the fashion industry’s carbon emissions total more than all international flights and shipping emissions combined. Action like this is something we can all do, including young people who worry that they’re unable to make an impact.
As well as online events like these, the third and final section of the Our Broken Planet display opened in September at the Museum in South Kensington, completing the free display’s three sections looking at the food we eat, the products we use and the energy we consume. Young people exploring the display can delve into how humans have shaped the planet and find solutions to a greener and sustainable future whilst experiencing the Museum’s ground-breaking science first-hand, through over 40 objects chosen from our vast collection. We have loved watching young people enjoy and interact with the OBP display at the Museum, reading the messages they’ve left at the end outlining the actions they’ve been inspired to take to stand up for the planet and take positive action ahead of COP26.
Young people who will not be in Glasgow can follow our live COP26 blog which will appear shortly on the Discover section of the NHM’s website or follow the NHM’s Twitter or Instagram account to watch our live-streamed sessions from The Nature Bar and from around Glasgow.
Providing a platform for young voices, that focuses on their aspirations towards driving change has been a new approach for the Museum and has made Our Broken Planet the most diverse and representative of our public programme offerings. The young voices have been aged 17-25 from a range of backgrounds including from the global south, ethnic minority communities and those from Indigenous communities. These young people have been involved in the development of the online programme.
Members of the Urban Nature Project Youth Advisory Panel (YAP), a group of 12 young people from diverse backgrounds who share their thoughts and experiences with Museum staff, have also been feeding into the themes, speakers and key talking points for events this summer. This resulted in a panel discussion about climate migration and an Instagram Live co-hosted by one of the YAP members about environmentally friendly consumer choices.
As part of the Great Exhibition Road Festival this month, we also hosted the panel discussion, ‘When Youth Lead the Way’, with Theo Blossom and YAP members Yogi and Victoria to hear how they have been impacted in their own lives, what motivates them to stand up and act, and what they would do to save the planet.
Engaging with schools
Moving on to the Urban Nature Project itself, we were pleased to launch the project’s school programme Explore: Urban Nature in September encouraging students aged 9-14 to be part of the urban nature movement. Eleven museums throughout the UK will be leading activities in their local schools and at their sites over the next three years assisting young people to track and monitor the nature closest to home, observe and collect new data, and take action through science to make a real difference.
Sometimes it’s easy to think of nature as something that exists outside our towns and cities but with over 80% of the UK population living in urban areas, these spaces are where most people experience nature and we want young people’s help in protecting it.
As well as forming these plans to go out and visit schools, we are so pleased to be welcoming school pupils back to our site in South Kensington too and were thrilled to re-launch our Ocean Life and Habitat show when COVID guidance allowed it. Delivered by our Science Educators, this show celebrates life in the ocean in fun, immersive ways that link to the primary school curriculum, learning about habitats, changing environments and food chains. The show delivers strong messages around caring for the planet, specifically by thinking about how much energy we use.
In August, we also welcomed 108 people through our community programme, all who identify as Looked After children such as those in foster families and their guardian to take part in a myriad of activities, from Investigate Sessions to Spirit Collection Tours, Lego Lifeforms through to a Wildlife Wander in our Wildlife Garden.
It is important not just to inspire and motivate young people to make change and stand up for the planet, but also to help them express these views. We were really pleased to work with the Speakers Trust on their programme ‘Climate Action: Race to Zero’ in August when we delivered a workshop to young people across the UK, improving their public speaking skills on climate change and what action should be taken and we look forward to seeing some of the resulting speeches delivered at COP26.
The next generation of wildlife photographers
The ever-inspirational Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) awards took place at the Museum last week hosted by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin. The winner of the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year was (I still have to pinch myself) just ten-years-old! Vidyun Hebbar captured an extraordinary image of a tent spider, weaving its trap whilst a tuk-tuk passing by provided the colourful backdrop.
This image was just one of more than 50,000 entries from 95 countries, but we recognise we can do even more to encourage entries from under-represented countries by waiving the WPY entry fee for photographers in 50 countries. We also want to encourage more entries from both girls and women and working closely with groups like Girls Who Click, and other organisations that support diversity in wildlife photography, to offer discounts and encourage more girls to enter the traditionally male dominated photography arena.
Vidyun first featured in the competition when he was just eight years old and loves to photograph the often-over looked creatures that live in the streets and parks near his home in the city of Bengaluru, India. At the Museum we continue to work hard to empower young people to speak about their views on the planetary emergency and listen to what they are telling us. Young people are the agents of change and Vidyun is a great example of how if we give young people agency, they will invite us to see the world through their eyes – bringing imagination and innovation.