Are teens doing enough for the environment?

Faced with the issues of preserving Earth’s natural scenery, combating global environment phenomena like global warming, reducing Man’s carbon footprint on the earth and other problems that plague the earth’s physical environment, the global community is worried. Environmental problems are the result of constant, accumulated dependency on the earth’s resources since centuries past— and these problems will only worsen in the future if nothing is done to resolve these problems. It is imperative, then, that future generations begin preventive, if not restorative action in order to mitigate or resolve the harms Man has brought to our planet, especially since they are emotionally invested in the condition of Earth in the decades to come. Fortunately, these teenagers are stepping up to their responsibilities, and within their capabilities, grapple with these environmental problems — signifying that they are indeed doing enough.

Before gauging the contributions of teenagers to the environment, it is important that we understand the constraints they live within and the extent of their capabilities, because their contributions must be compared relative to those boundaries. First, we need to recognise that they have financial constraints. Lacking a source of income, it would be unreasonable to expect huge donations that traditionally come from concerned philanthropists, or to expect financial investment for environmental solutions. Second, we need to acknowledge their other commitments. Being growing individuals with little experience and knowledge, teenagers often have other commitments such as school that take up their time. Noting this, it would also be unreasonable to expect them to take on the role of full-time environmental activists like those in Greenpeace, for instance. Third, teenagers are commonly thought of as irrational beings with inability to make important decisions, so adults usually bar them from obtaining partaking in discussions and making significant choices. As such, many lack the power to implement change, unless they obtain support from adults. However, what we should examine is the effort put in to think up new, innovative ideas to solve environmental issues, or the time committed outside school hours to participate in environmental efforts such as sorting of recyclable rubbish or beach cleanups as a part of serving the community. Hopefully, then, they will implement and push out their new innovations as they grow up. 

Some would argue that teenagers are completely ignorant of the problem of global warming, and this means that they do not contribute to saving the environment because they do not acknowledge the problems facing the environment and do not understand the solutions to solve it. However, in a world of increased connectivity through pervasive media platforms like the Internet and social media platforms, the number of teenagers understanding the severity of the problem has increased. Naturally, a majority of these teenage individuals are concerned about the problem — a survey done by Habbo and Greenpeace in 2007 of 50,000 teenagers showed that they were more concerned about greenhouse gases than drugs, violence and war, with 74% believing that global warming is a serious concern. Taking note of the fact that the implications of the energy crisis and the onset of melting ice caps in the Arctic all happen and will affect the lives of these teenagers, it is reasonable that these teenagers will be invested in solving these problems. At this, it is then important to understand how these concerns translate into concrete action to care for the environment and the future of the Earth. Increasingly, schools have been providing chances for teenagers to show their dedication to the environment. Students have been coming up with unique solutions, like using soy bean waste to produce bioethanol, or using sea shells to adsorb heavy metal ions from water, all in the name of saving the environment and making the world a better place to live in. These reflect the sheer dedication of these students to think up novel methods of solving issues like the energy crisis and pollution of Earth’s resources, showing that teenagers are indeed acknowledging the problems with the environment, and intend to solve them. 
Other skeptics of teenage environmental activism also claim that teenagers today are often distracted by other things like technology and their gadget, which leaves little thought for contemplating how to protect the environment. On the contrary, teenagers are much more likely to initiate their own environmental projects and awareness campaigns, bypassing the political, bureaucratic world of adults. Furthermore, the familiarity teenagers today have with technology and their devices make their campaigns all the more effective and their messages all the more impactful. Though many teenagers are often not handed the chance to make important decisions, many teenagers do not merely give up but go on to push for change in other ways. For instance, a group of these teenagers in San Francisco went to rally for change in their own creative ways, such as the donning of impactful costumes made of plastic bags, and finally testifying in their courts for their cause. This led to the banning of the provision of plastic bags in their county, which is a significant change for the community. This also disproves the assumption that one must hold significant power before change can be brought about. In addition, the technologically-savvy younger generation is able to forward their cause more strongly aided by the Internet, their handphones and the like. These social media platforms are increasingly used in the global community, and they are special in that the messages they portray are not only delivered efficiently but also effectively, aided by the use of photos and videos that come along with campaign messages. Well-accustomed teenagers can thus use these technological platforms to show their concern, share their thoughts and promote their own actions. This bonds groups of adults and teenagers alike that are interested in doing more for the environment, and can serve as a source of  inspiration for change such that more people can contribute, and more effectively. Clearly, teenagers are indeed doing enough by pushing for change in their own unique ways, manoeuvring within the tight boundaries they experience. 

Opponents of the thesis express regret over the fact that commitments bog down teenagers, and make the statement that teenagers could have done so much more if academic work was not as intensive as it currently is. The problem with such statements is that it fails to consider that the growing trend that education seems to be taking a turn towards. Education is no longer just the feeding of knowledge, but also has adapted to include the requirement for students to take on projects. This means that schools increasingly take into account the need for students to learn new skills and apply them in the real world. There is no better place to do this than in schools, where teachers are students’ sources of guidance and a pathway to greater resources and connections. Teenagers that are indeed concerned about the environment would have access to ideas and previous works, of which schools have a dearth of. Therefore, under the mentorship and help of adults, teenagers can then find ways to realise and materialise their ideas to save the environment. The learning of the effect of bonding between the cell walls of microorganisms to certain substances in biology, for example, facilitates the inspiration of students to find out if harmful substances can be selectively removed from the environment. Overall, the intense focus of the entire global community on the environment has allowed students to build on the foundations set up by their forefathers, and thereby concretise their ideas and inspirations. 

In essence, the children of today are raised to feel a natural inclination towards saving the environment, and have been repeatedly told by the global community and the media that they are tasked with the job of preventing environmental chaos and further harm. This pushes teenagers to take on more projects with like-minded individuals, which can be found more easily in this globalised world with the help of social media. The expertise, knowledge and interest of scientists and researchers can then add on to the ideas and projects of these invested youths, so as to actually find a way to solve environmental problems. As Thomas Jefferson, previous American president, said, “Every generation needs a new revolution”. The environmental revolution will be a new one, headed by teenagers, the adults of tomorrow, and backed by their parents and the research of generations past. 

Does technology necessarily improve the quality of people’s lives?

            Science and its application, technology, are definitely tools mankind has utilized over its long years of existence – conversions from writing letters to sending emails, and from the Gutenberg press to the Internet have all been hailed to have been improvements in the quality of life in the history of man. Generally speaking, the explorations of the boundaries of the human race and the world we live in have generally developed beneficially for us. However, there have been some harmful impacts we must also take into consideration, because whether the technology does improve the quality of living of humans is dependent upon the manner in which it is used. Therefore, though it does have its positive benefits, technology does not necessarily improve the conditions we live in, or the emotional comfort we experience.

            One may argue that the aspect of communication has been well developed, because the creation of emailing and social networking sites allows humans to transcend geographical boundaries to communicate with each other. However, we need to recognize that efficiency of communication does not necessarily equate to the quality of conversation we have. In fact, it can be harmful in multiple aspects. First, the fact that we can communicate online gives the veneer that we no longer need face-to-face interaction. Despite this, it is the real, physical interaction that really draws relationships closer, because we bond over the physical times we spend together, and understand each other better through body language – empirical studies have shown that up to 60 percent of our impressions of a person are formed by observing their body language. When such a major aspect is left out in online discussions, we tend to get further away from each other. Second, the ability to post comments at the click of a button makes us all the more careless, in posting insensitive comments about race and politics, which often offend others. There have been many instances where young children, whose cognitive function have yet to develop and thus cannot rationalize as clearly as adults, misuse the Internet. For example, a boy of a mere thirteen years of age was arrested for threatening to “bomb marina Bay” online. Not only does technology draw people further apart in their relationships, it also increases our possibility of being rash, because of the over-efficient nature of the technology available.

            One may also think that with all the scientific research, experimentation, and findings, we would have nurtured our environment healthily. Unfortunately, the answer to that claim is an adamant “no”. On the other hand, it is as Alan Eddison says, “Modern technology owes ecology an apology”. With all the coal plants, cars on the roads and factories spewing out smoke, the environment has been harmed far more than it has been benefitted. Ultimately, the generation of excessive methane and carbon dioxide has caused global warming, which directly affects lives by increasing the concentration of UV rays in the Sun’s rays, that can give us skin cancer over long exposure periods. Increases of sea temperatures have indirectly caused us harm as well. Not only are entire biodiversities harmed when coral reefs die, fish have been shown to migrate to cooler regions, away from seashores. In fact, repeated scientific studies have come to a consensus that an increase of just 2 degrees Celcius of sea temperatures is sufficient in causing a significant fish migration pattern. This trend affects the fishermen of nations who depend heavily on the marine fish industry, most viscerally seen in nations like Japan and Taiwan. Clearly, the products of our technology have generated more problems than benefits, even in the environmental aspect, which invariably affects the quality of people’s lives adversely.

            The strongest proponents of technology argue that medicine is where the benefits of science are truly seen. To some degree, this is true – live expectancies have indeed gone up in many societies of the world, with rates of cholera and malaria going down. However, if we really examine the problem, we realize that there is much more to be done. To begin with, we need to understand that the premise of furthering medical technology is that those who are poor must have access to these technologies, and we see that this is often untrue, in many cases. In the example of Plumpy’nut, a proclaimed nutritious food for people in undeveloped countries that only requires water to work, corporations often jack up prices in an attempt tot gain more profit for their selfish, personal consumption, while neglecting poor families scrounging all their savings to buy just one or two tins of the product. New Zealand GM food giant Monterro has discovered a way to develop juicier, plumper tomatoes, at low costs, yet alters prices to exorbitant degrees, by virtue of the fact that it is a monopoly in the industry. While it is undisputable that in this instance, technology can indeed improve the quality of people’s lives, we need to acknowledge that technology discriminates against poorer people at a fundamental level, because we need profit-motivated corporations to market these technologies. An indisputable harm of technology, then, rises in the military sphere. To begin with, a benefit to the military – having more F16 jets, plutonium nuclear warheads and Leopard tanks – is only a detriment to human kind, because the inherent definition of a good military is its ability to obliterate enemies, who are unequivocally humans as well. When we examine rogue nations, we realize the extent of harm that technology can bring about. Iran’s insistence on developing a nuclear weapon so that it can “wipe Israel off the surface of the earth” is a massive bargaining chip in negotiations, North Korea’s increasing missile arsenal has worsened ties between the two peninsulas, and Bashaar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Dasmascus, Syria, has led to the death of a thousand innocent civilians. Even for nations like the United States of America, which supposedly has a goo dtrack record, has thoroughly blundered in the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, causing unnecessary bloodshed and deaths. At the end of the day, the brunt of the conflict between societies and technology is brought down savagely upon the people. Clearly, dying or being mutilated does not contribute to any improvement to a person’s quality of life.

            Though cliché, the famous line from Spiderman “with great power, comes great responsibility”, is very true. In a world where knowledge is power and our endeavors in scientific discovery have given Man knowledge, there is a great responsibility for us to utilize that knowledge to the best possible degree. The problem is that the definition of “the best possible degree” is very arbitrary, as one Man’s meat may be another’s poison. Our discoveries have generated many ethical dilemmas, upon which we are hesitant to make a decision. Our complete sequencing of the human genome by the Human Genome Project does help to identify stick-cell disease, possible cases of future Alzheimer’s and the like, but sometimes knowledge can be deadly, even literally. In a report done by a doctor, it was commented that it is very hard to decide to tell a mother that her child would be born with Tay Sach’s disease, which causes the brain to degenerate and a layer of plaque to form over the baby’s brain, effectively guaranteeing his death by the time he is four. Should people suffering from cancer be allowed to be euthanised, to save him from great pain? Should we tell couples information of their child’s gender in advance, only to have them abort the baby? Should we allow cloning for the harvesting of organs, so that the thousands of people on the kidney transplant waiting list can be cured? These are all ethical dilemmas that unfortunately are not black and white. Sometimes, it is said, ignorance is bliss, and science and technology sometimes does nothing to facilitate that bliss.

            Eventually, the question of whether science and technology improves the quality of people’s lives boils down to the question of how the technology s used, who uses it, and to what ends is the technology used – it is a complex question that has no definite answer. However the existence of many abuses of technology only makes us ponder over whether the knowledge that science provides, and the chance to make full use of that technology present, is really beneficial for us. Perhaps, it is as Jean Rostand, acclaimed French scientist says “science has made us Gods, even before we are worthy of being men”. Science indeed has left us many problems we can only hope to resolve. Hence, the best possible direction we can work towards is to make use of that scientific knowledge we have to resolve our problems, and to set appropriate regulations on the created technologies.

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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.