Sitting in class, I look down at my phone and notice an alarming headline alert from Time Magazine, “Cape Town Is 90 Days Away From Running Out of Water.” The imminent threat of climate change always seemed like a distant possibility, far from my own reality. It still is. Conceptualizing the possibility of a city of half a million people will soon be without water, leads the mind to imagine post-apocalyptic circumstances. A three year drought and a growth in population have been the leading reasons that Cape Town’s reservoirs have began to dry up. Specialists and city officials could not have predicted such a dramatic scenario to occur. Or could they?
Sustainability, in definition means: “the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems.” However, the definition does not solely pertain to the environment. Longevity and independence are the main pillars of sustainable principles. Creating spaces and opportunities where people are able to act outside of present institutions, activating their agency and building access to a future that is equitable for all people, organisms and the natural environment-- is sustainability.
“Tend the World Youth Forum,” organized by World Oregon, offered a unique venue for collaborative learning and thinking on young people authoring a sustainable future. In a partnership with the CENTER and Latino Network, GPSEN (the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network) hosted an interactive workshop on demystifying the term “sustainability.” When asked, “what comes to mind when you think of sustainability,” most responses were in line with the common misperception of composting, ultra conservative living styles, tree conservation and overall green practices. A few voices emerged speaking about the need to conserve food intake, clean energy and equal access to social services. The nuances in these responses set the stage for the fifty-five minutes.
Going around as students responded to what brought them to the workshop, I noticed a common trend of social justice minded folks, leading gender equality clubs at their respective schools. The disconnect in those passionate about social justice, from the efforts of environmental justice is a problem that will only lead each movement to lack from the support of the other. Consolidation and collaboration in activism is integral to being effective in face of widespread systemic indifference. Yet, these were the activists realizing their blind spots, addressing what they did not know, head on to learn more about what they could do.
As a young person, I feel most empowered in rooms of other young people. There is an honesty and realism to the beliefs shared. Idealistic, oftentimes, yet, willing to grapple with the actuality of years of continual exploitation, young people have the ability to be use the energy of youth to combat injustice over a lifetime. Each generation feels renewed from the other. A fire of intellectual and social progress fuels their hope for the world. But with time and life experience this fire slowly dulls, as the negativity of life continually says, “no.” There were no, “no’s” in this room, only a shared creativity for solving the world’s largest issues. Empathetically, each group of five of the forty participants, spoke with conviction about the issues of sustainability in their own communities. Using the UN 17 goals of Sustainable Development, the groups had to address their community issue with a symbol made of the possessions they brought to the workshop. A ruler with lined equidistantly with a pencil, CPR verification card and a book, signified equal access to the goal of: “Quality Education.”
There was an inspiration shared in the subtle transitions between each group. Thoughtful explanations and support snaps augmented a space that provided everyone to feel empowered, stepping into a new space of hope for the future.