In this season’s essay competition The Economist received nearly 2,400 entries from 130 countries and territories. They came from entrants as young as nine so when old as 71—who said they felt compelled to add their voice, even though the rules specified that only those aged 16 to 25 were eligible to win.
The essays advocated everything from eco-authoritarianism to anarchy to artificial intelligence. Common themes included treating climate change as being a new ‘world war’ and replacing subsidies that contribute to pollution with ones that mitigate it. A ‘green index’ to track the extent of the problem was put forward, as was the notion of a ‘green GDP’ to cost the value of the environment in national accounts.
Many writers pressed for abolishing capitalism, while others argued that the free market would solve the situation. a number of essays called for local governments to set environmental standards, in addition to to elevate the voting power of vulnerable countries in international community forums. Some advocated a form of ‘eco-conscription’, that is, a youth national service to combat climate change.
Among the shortest essays we received was one from a Chicagoan, 24, which simply wrote: ‘Eat the rich.’ More on that below. Information on the competition and finalists will be here. The winning essay is here. A number of gently-edited excerpts from the essays is hereunder.
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Change our mentality
Nargiz Ahmadova, 22, Sumgayit, Azerbaijan
‘By saying to his grandchildren, ‘this river passing our house was too wide to swim in my own childhood, nevertheless now it really is too small to swim’, my grandfather indeed touched the point that today researchers are talking about. If even a man who has never been educated, and who has been living in the far place of the world, a long way away from the media, is aware of climate change, then why the planet does not give enough attention to this matter? I can not blame anyone for the climate change but only myself. I need to change my mindset so that it does not solely concentrate on my self-interest, but also the interests of all.’
Mohammad Shaheer Qateh, 25, Kabul, Afghanistan
‘ This is a cancer that is seizing humans’ plus the Earth’s wellbeing. To easily understand it, let’s use a simple example. Daily, we have been advised that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. To decrease the chances of cancer, health practitioners say that certain should quit or decrease smoking. But we however smoke. We can’t stop it. Why? The answer is addiction. Into the same way, we have been addicted to extracting and using resources to produce things and feel satisfied with having many products. They are not improving us. We say that individuals are more intelligent than our ancestors. But our ancestors’ minds were tied to wisdom, not things.’
Daniel Alcock, 23, Sunderland, Britain
‘Perhaps the answer to our future is found in our past. Having a bit of irony, the answer could be excavated from an old coal-mining community. Childhood into the northeast of England is polluted with anecdotes from the elderly as to how things ‘used to be’. Community was at the heart of everything. Whereas a Church-goer could have attended three times a week, now three times 30 days will suffice for the title of ‘regular’. Shared garden allotments and community meals are replaced with soup kitchens and food-banks. As for family, in some areas a teenager is more likely to have a smartphone than have a daddy living at home. To climate change, take a step back from modernity and call back community.’
The public sector
Aarav Leekha, 12, New York, Usa
‘ Even though the greater part of men and women in the United States believe climate change is real, conservative parties around the globe are giving voice to climate deniers. They make use of a disenfranchised electorate to push denialist talking points—ill-informed at best and ridiculously untrue at worst. Convincing disenfranchised voters of the benefits of climate-change solutions is required to unify the entire electorate behind climate action. The transition from a carbon economy to a green economy, in the long run, will economically increase the disenfranchised. A World Climate Accord is required.’
Awor Deng, 23, Juba, South Sudan
‘ While the inventions and ingenuity of man have given him a giant leap beyond the moon, it will be the harm he’s got caused his original home that will define his fate. Mother nature is among the most inevitable sufferer of humanity’s quest for progress. The menace is caused partly by way of a tendency of nations to give up the environmental surroundings at the early in the day stages of their economic development, creating the notion that economic progress and environmental protection are mutually exclusive. The menace of plastic waste is a ‘thorn in the flesh’ for humanity plus the ecosystem. We must redirect our capital to clean up our polymeric mess. Mankind must rethink the use of capital; we must give it a new purpose, one that will eventually enable us to save and make peace with our planet.’
The private sector
Johannes Stupperich, 19, German in Nancy, France
‘GDP just isn’t functional for measuring the sustainability of an economy, which explains why a ‘climate chit’ must be introduced, whose negative equivalent is 1 tonne of CO2, making it desirable to enjoy a GGDP (or ‘Green Gross Domestic Product’) equalling or being superior to 0, because that would indicate that the harm done towards the environment equals or is inferior to the measures in favour of the environmental surroundings. Climate chits could be traded on exchanges against currencies. Companies having a positive GGDP can trade their climate chits to make further (and hopefully further green) investments, while companies having a negative balance must pay a fine.’
Eduardo Magalhães, 22, Albergaria-a-Velha, Portugal
‘The ‘polluter pays’ principle is dramatically outdated. In many cases the damage done may have irreparable costs to nature and wildlife. In other situations the damage looks affordable by the polluter, especially if the cost is connected with policies like taxes or subsidies. a possible solution is to turn the principle to a sort of ‘polluter rebuilds’ principle, in which damage can simply be rectified by way of a large investment to recover what was lost and to expand the injured area ( for example, if it was a forest, to reforest more).’
Rethinking the economy
Audrey Herrera-Lim, 16, Muntinlupa City, Philippines
‘As a kid, my cues for growth or joy were closely connected with buying material products: iPad, toys and video games. This has become the measure of our self worth. It sustains the idea that consumption is a measure of how far we have come, whether it is as teenagers, a community, a country or a planet. Which includes to change. But how can it? All the measures that individuals broadly agree on—GDP, production, output, growth—are based on the idea of production and consumption. The fundamental change needed for an effective response to climate change is to redefine the way we measure progress as being a society.’
Htet Myat Aung, 16, Yangon, Myanmar
‘In developing countries, many researchers working on solutions for the environmental surroundings find it very difficult to live, because organisations and governments truth be told there don’t support them. So they need international organisations and governments. Only developed countries can save the planet, not the developing countries. Raw materials should not be produced minus the permission of those governments, so a black market for natural resources could be paid off. In addition, production should use raw materials from local sources, so they do not need transportation.’
New voices needed
Juan Gutierrez, 21, Armenia, Colombia
‘Historically it has been the loudest voices that have already been heard the farthest. The only way our political systems will combat climate change is by turning the existing cacophony of cries and complaints in to a unified narrative. Our economic and political systems need certainly to hear the voices of small states and need the co-operation of the largest ones—if not from principle then from pressure. As long as the economic interests of the few are placed ahead of the needs of the world, the planet will keep heating up until the destruction is really harsh that unilateral action is the only choice left. By the time we run out of choices we would curently have run out of time.’
Kenneth Ryu, 18, Hoengseong, South Korea
‘One of my classmates persuaded her parents to use eco-bags at grocery stores. Granted, they might have done it not for the environment but because their daughter asked for it. Nonetheless, this form of parental love is key to amplifying the impact of grassroots movements. The young have shown that they value the world just as much as the adults, if not more. They’ve which may have a very responsibility that the adults should have shown. Most of all, they will have the best to decide their future. They are already making major decisions in life such as for example colleges, careers and places to live. They deserve the right to choose policies and leaders that could shape their future—or destroy it.’
The view of developing economies
Shania Robinson, 21, San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago
‘Shifting the entire basis of the global economy is not any easy task. a transition to a ‘steady-state economy’, while entirely feasible, would conflict with several dominant interests. Major extractive industries into the global south would be negatively afflicted with the shift toward ecological taxation. Products with longer durability would prove detrimental to manufacturers worldwide. a fluid model according to each individual society implies that there will not any longer be described as a clear, albeit flawed, standard of development; the very concept of what the term means will have to be redefined.’
Okechi Okeke, 24, Oyigbo, Nigeria
‘My parents’ joy died recently with the death of their crops. My parents are farmers into the small town of Oyigbo, into the oil-producing Rivers State. But their joy was cut short after a pipeline explosion in May 2019. It was devastating. It roasted hundreds of heads, burnt huge trees and a few houses. But no one realised that the explosion had deposited toxins in the air until a unusual weather change occurred. Acid rain fell, with no significant effort to curb it. After it happened, when I stood before those crops that had turned ashen, I asked, ‘Who is responsible for this change?’ The environment is now ambiguous and volatile, and political leaders are like a good dancer which, whether or not the music’s rhythm changes, instantaneously devises a step to continue dancing flawlessly.’
Mazvita Chikomo, 20, Harare, Zimbabwe
‘As a young Zimbabwean girl, I came to understand the ramifications of climate change at a early age not from books but from the cobwebbed box that I stumbled across. This box was filled with thick winter jackets I had packed away during the summer. In the middle of July, when it used to be dreadfully cold, I was wearing tights and a long-sleeved shirt, anything I would have worn on a mild day. I realised we might all have different terms for this, but certainly I was not the only 1 who had experienced this change. As I got older, I realised that this was not ending soon. Efforts to address climate change have not been effective because people say they understand climate change, nevertheless they usually do not realise what it means. Until people understand that climate change is an ‘us’ problem and not a ‘me’ problem, no policy will ever be effective.’
Puthtipong Thunyatada, 17, Bangkok, Thailand
‘Eight years ago, the streets of Bangkok flooded such that my village became a virtual canal where, for a time, the primary method of transport was to row boats through the streets. The economic damage was immense: as much as $46bn, in line with the World Bank. Yet this might happen again. Unchecked urbanisation and climate change mean that Bangkok could be mostly submerged by its own weight by 2030. But little more than ad hoc fixes were enacted in response. That is replicated on a larger scale into the rest of the world, where in actuality the flowery promises of politicians to combat climate change usually do not match their actions. It really is time the politicians took a backseat and gave the upcoming eco-billionaires a chance at the steering wheel, as dangerous as it may be.’
Marwane Aboulfaouz, 23, Moroccan in Paris, France
‘In terms of international policies, one question is: why isn’t there a ‘World Waste Organisation’? Regulating the flows of waste and trading it as being a classic commodity should be considered. For instance, Rome risks being swamped by its urban waste, due to economic and social elements. The city used to rely on Austrian and Chinese markets, which imported manufacturing scrap for waste-to-energy purposes. Nonetheless, since an environmental backlash into the city, the imports couldn’t meet the huge supply, resulting in unsanitary treatment and an international grey economy. Regulating waste flows should be a priority.’
Henry Sahdalá, 24, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
‘A ‘sponsorship model’ would include a developed country being liable for all or a percentage of the climate-related damages that a sponsored country suffers. This might make developed countries bigger stakeholders into the wellbeing of the sponsored, developing countries. To define who sponsors whom, we could consider two main criteria. The initial is capacity, measured in budget-capacity for the developed country relative towards the potential damages suffered by developing countries. The second would be historical relationship, measured by the long, historical ties some developed countries have with developing countries. The aim is for developed countries to forge closer ties towards the countries which can be most at risk of the effects of climate change.’
Alishba Imran, 16, Toronto, Canada
‘Nanotechnology may be one way to help reduce quantities of skin tightening and in a cost-effective way. We can use tiny powerhouse materials called nanomaterials to capture CO2 from our water, air and land. We can then use the captured CO2 to create useful products. It’s not easy but if it worked, it may be revolutionary. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants make food. Carbon dioxide could be converted into useful fuels through ‘artificial photosynthesis’. Plants are terrific at using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water. We can make an effort to replicate this technique.”
In search of answers
Mashael Alzaid, 24, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
‘I inhabit the middle of a huge desert that—to keep pace with the times—blew away the dust from its land, decorated itself with high-rise buildings and factories, under a constant, busy rhythm. On my 24th birthday, I wanted my nature to meet the nature of the earth, away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation, in a fascinating spot in its depth, mystery and uniqueness: the sea that carries happy stories, such as those that tell the love story of polyp and a tiny plant-like organism called zooxanthellae; the secret behind the colourful corals which can be visited by both fish and people from all over the planet. And so I asked: ‘Mirror, mirror regarding the wall. What is the most important thing to the modern human, of them all?’ It replied: ‘Industry.’ I asked: ‘How come the sea is not the most critical of them all when it is the main producer of the oxygen on which organisms live, including those that developed the industry?’ So I took it upon myself to look into the treasures of the sea for an answer.’
Fabiola Scheffel, 23, Venezuelan in Dublin, Ireland
‘ The global north should recognise how, in Venezuela, resource insecurity and violence can shatter a society and produce a massive displacement of people. Look carefully, since the Syrian refugee crisis that alarmed Europe and America will seem insignificant towards the 143m people that the planet Bank projects are displaced by 2050 as a result of ramifications of climate change. Such an apocalypse might swallow migrants and their receiving communities alike. And yet the difficulty lies in collaborating to prevent and mitigate climate change in an era of protectionism. I call for a temporary broadening of the number of people that all of us would start thinking about becoming one of our own, and for whom we would act, to include men and women hundreds of kilometers away.’
The final word
As for the three-word essay we received, it came with a title that was eight times longer: ‘The Anti-Disparity Cookbook: A evidence Based Policy Recipe to Ending World Hunger While Dismantling the Impending Socioeconomic and Ecological Threat Posed by Climate Change.’
Thank you to all the people which submitted an essay.
Growing up in a small town in Northern Canada, climate change wasn’t anything I thought of often. And once I did understand the global impacts of a changing climate a little later in life, the topic seemed too daunting to fully process. I tend to think of myself as an optimist, of the opinion that through thoughtful action we can begin to see the positive changes we want for the world. The environmental surroundings was always my one exception though, and while I’m typically up for a good challenge, I thought we would work with global poverty issues because this seemed more within the realm of the possible than something related to climate change.
It wasn’t until a recent trip to Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, that some light was shed on my gloomy outlook for the future of the planet. It was truth be told there, at the front essay of climate change lines of the fight against climate change, that I witnessed men and women taking on the task that I had been too timid to even start thinking about.
Image: Amanda Lenhardt / ODI
Amidst all the talk of climate change, for most people dominating the discussion, climate change is a distant concept – either it’s anything of concern for the future, or something experienced elsewhere. For farmers in Northern Burkina Faso regarding the edge of the Sahel desert though, climate change is a daily reality. The temperaments for the climate dictate whether the season’s crops will yield enough food for families to eat, and whether enough will undoubtedly be produced to sell in order to afford to send kids to school or attend to health needs.
Image: Amanda Lenhardt / ODI
A year ago, like a long time in recent memory, the rains came late. Uncertainty is among the most new normal for the people living off of an unforgiving landscape where population pressures, deforestation and unsustainable farming practices have paved the way for the Sahel desert to creep ever closer.
Image: Amanda Lenhardt / ODI
But farmers in Northern Burkina Faso are not sitting idly as the climate changes around them. For many years they have been adapting farming techniques to conserve water and regenerate soil in an effort to reclaim land from the desert and to adapt to changing weather patterns.
Image: Amanda Lenhardt / ODI
Throughout the last 25 years, around 200,000 to 300,000 hectares of desertified lands have been reclaimed in Burkina Faso through the labour and investments of smallholder farmers, and with the support of national NGOs, international donors and government services.
Image: Amanda Lenhardt / ODI
The use of improved farming methods has meant that more food is produced and that families’ periods of food shortage have been significantly paid off. Although drought remains a threat year-on-year, the devastating famines experienced in the 1970s have to date been averted.
Image: Amanda Lenhardt / ODI
Nonetheless these gains are fragile, and many of the poorest farmers are unable to take on any further investment or dedicate any additional labour to continue to aid the region adapt. More needs to be done to translate promises made by the planet’s leaders into practical and effective support for families regarding the front lines of the fight against climate change.
Image: Amanda Lenhardt / ODI
I left Burkina Faso feeling both humbled by the tireless efforts of people who are combatting desertification and climatic change, but also having a newfound optimism for the efficacy of actions towards a more sustainable world. For anyone of us feeling overwhelmed by what that task might require, one way to start would be to extend support to those who’ve already taken up the challenge, as their fight can be our common fight.