UN World Wildlife Day is a relatively new thing, only ratified in 2013, so only now in its fourth year. But as theme, 2017 has picked “Listen to the young voices”, which is something well worth supporting.The reality is that humanity is, on balance, bad for wildlife. Much of this isn’t through conscious action, we don’t set out to damage the environment. It just happens incidentally as a consequence of our push for growth, or our superstitions, or to provide food, water and shelter for an ever-expanding population.
In the UK, the turnout at the last General Election by 18-24 year olds was the lowest of any group, with less than half voting (43%). By the time of the next General Election a few million people currently outside that bracket will be eligible to vote for the first time. This is hugely important, because if that voting block engaged like the older generations engage (78% of over 65s voted) they would wield enough power to potentially swing an election.
Now, nobody is saying that this is what they could or should do. But if they were taken seriously as a voting block in the way pensioners are, political parties would feel it necessary to chase that vote, and make pledges and ultimately policies that were attractive to that generation.
This all brings us back to the theme of World Wildlife Day 2017. The environment is regularly cited by younger people worldwide as a major concern. There are plenty of young people who are already highly engaged here, but it is a level of engagement that needs to spread and translate to political action. It can be all too easy to see certain behaviour as ‘the way it is’ and impossible to change. But demographics change, and with it the balance of power – if you engage.
Education is critical here. If young people across the world get a better education about the environment, and about the consequences of our actions. If they are taught science in a way that means they will grow up to reject ‘traditional medicines’ that lead to poaching and extinction. If they grow up looking forward to what might work better, not backward to what may have worked in the past. All that can make a profound and lasting change.
Young people potentially wield an immense amount of power, if they can be encouraged to use it. Politicians will often talk positively about engaging young people in politics, and some mean it. But many hate the idea, because they know that it will make their life more difficult. It will potentially unseat them. It’s much easier if you can focus on appeasing one big group that reliably vote.
So on World Wildlife Day my message is “vote, for nature’s sake”.