Platform. The everyday portal for sharing knowledge and intelligence on sustainability across Greater Manchester.

Sustainability: an uncertain future?

In February 2008, Manchester City Council approved the 17 Principles of Tackling Climate Change in Manchester. They were the beginnings of how Manchester could develop an effective action plan to becoming a low carbon city by 2020. This would include reducing total carbon emissions by 48%, creating a multitude of new jobs in the rapidly developing ‘green sector’ and embedding ‘carbon literacy’ in to organisations and lifestyles through education.

Manchester City Council is obviously dedicated to ensuring that the city will be a suitable environment for the next generation to thrive in and enjoy. But how much do young people know about sustainability? Do they care about the continuation of society? Or are they selfishly consuming resources without a thought for the future?

Liam Brennan, 17: “If you don’t pick geography as an A-level, there is very little that is taught on sustainability in college.”

It is obvious to me that the majority of young adults show a lack of interest in sustainability because it is not a prime focus in UK schools. My peers complain that their subject syllabuses do not incorporate any topics that are associated with protecting the environment. This is concerning because the topic of sustainability could easily be taught in an engaging and enjoyable way.

For example, in biology students could learn about the importance of preserving wildlife and their natural habitats, or in history the progression from the use of fossil fuels to sustainable energy could be taught using interesting case studies, such as the development of bioethanol in Brazil. I am reluctant to suggest changes for more reform to the education system in Britain, but I believe sustainability must be at the forefront of teenagers’ minds.

Saying this, at my college there is a ‘CO2 Club’. The students meet weekly, aiming to reduce carbon emissions and increase sustainability in school. This school year the team has increased the amount of materials recycled from 40% to 90%; water costs have fallen by £12,500; and annual electricity savings are £18,000. The success of ‘CO2 Club’ proves that young adults are willing to engage in protecting the environment if they are given the opportunity to do so. 

Lydia Marsden, 17: “As a young adult, I have not heard anything about sustainability in Manchester.”

Harry Farr, 17: “I definitely think that the Government should be trying harder to connect young people with sustainability.”

The lack of government campaigns that engage young adults results in their inevitable disinterest in sustainability. I would argue that it is unreasonable to expect teenagers to discover the importance of a sustainable lifestyle for themselves during a period in which they are focusing on passing their examinations.

It is unsurprising that the current government show scant enthusiasm for engaging with adolescents on the subject of the environment. In December 2013, George Osborne confirmed tax breaks for shale gas companies so that they would pay half the normal rate of tax on early profits. Regrettably, this is a government that is committed to aiding powerful energy companies, rather than protecting the environment.

Morag Thomas, 17: “The world does not belong to those that benefit from it being unsustainable. It belongs to everyone.”

Isabel Golding, 17: “I recycle. I don’t waste food. I don’t litter. I don’t spray aerosol cans.”

However many young people are subconsciously leading moderately sustainable lifestyles. All of my friends recycle at home using the green, blue and brown bins. They are also strongly opposed to littering. We cycle or walk to school, ignoring the tram that takes us within a one minute walk. If we are going in to Manchester it is often cheaper to order a taxi rather than using one of the many public transport systems on offer. But, however tempting that taxi may be, we know it would be selfish and environmentally damaging, so ignore the option.

Furthermore, when probed, teenagers can offer sensible suggestions for improving the sustainability of Manchester.  Harry Farr recognised that there was insufficient recycling bins in the city centre. He suggested that recycling bins should be available in Piccadilly to prevent regular bins from overflowing and to utilise the recyclable materials that are currently going to waste.

The importance of cycle paths was raised by Isabel Golding. She feels “like a car is going to knock me over” when there is no lane for cyclists on a busy road. Isabel also recognised that the United Kingdom is one of the best locations in the world for wind farms. Over 60% of the British public agrees with the statement ‘wind farms are necessary and how they look is unimportant’.

Wind power is a reliable and renewable energy source, yet there are only 5,569 wind turbines supplying 10% of the UK’s total electricity. It is appalling that the Government is willing to ignore wind energy and invest huge sums of money in to nuclear energy, when radioactive waste is known to carcinogenic and hazardous.

My friends also had an opinion on the fracking process. Lydia Marsden announced, “by allowing fracking we ignore research in to renewable resources and instead destroy peoples homes by scrounging for scraps of shale gas”. This is the view we would expect from a liberal minded teenager who is interested in sustainability.

However, this is not the only view – Liam Brennan, a member of the CO2 Club at school, was in favour of fracking. He argued, “if finite resources are left we should use them because it gives us more time to develop renewable energy sources”. Differing opinions show that young adults are able and willing to discuss their ideas about sustainability but are, generally, not being given the opportunity.

Harry Farr: “If we want the world to continue developing we must research sustainable energy.”

Morag Thomas: “The Victorians didn’t know about the damaging effects of burning fossil fuels, but we know so there is no excuse to ignore the environmental situation.”

Recognising the need for a sustainable world is crucial for the human race to survive. My generations’ action on sustainability will determine how long our environment is suitable to live in. All those interviewed mentioned that we had not inherited an unalterable situation and that now is the pivotal time to promote sustainability so we are able to enjoy this world in the future.