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September 12, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

Engaging a Younger Generation

Phil Hagan

I was recently speaking at the eighth International Youth Summit on Energy and Climate Change in Beijing and each of these topics [scientific, technological, economic, social, political, and ethical dimensions of climate change] were covered with the wide array of speakers present at the event. The attendees were from high school, undergraduate and graduate programs—mostly from China with a few international attendees. I was amazed at the enthusiasm of the attendees—the speakers were treated as if they were rock stars at a popular concert venue—selfies, trending on twitter (yes, in China) and autographs were the norm. Not something I have ever experienced here in the United States—though possibly, the language difference helped elevate the response and not my witty demeanor. Regardless of which dimension is most critical—this is the type of response that is the most critical as we try to address climate change.

This experience in China and based on my personal experiences here in the States, I think that the most critical challenge that we face in the climate change arena is ensuring that the younger generation gets involved and maintains an enthusiasm similar to what I experienced in China in regards to addressing the problem of climate change.

I often hear folks arguing about whether the human race is responsible for climate change and global warming.  

The message that I tried to deliver at the Youth Summit was that it does not matter.

Whether me (or you) or nobody is contributing to the problem—we should still do what we can to address the issue. If it turns out that one day, it is proven that the human race was not responsible in any way for climate change—then good for us—all the naysayers can pat themselves on their backs. If, it turns out that it was the human race upsetting the balance of nature and such—then we will still have moved in the right direction. We will have helped the world for future generations. That is the legacy that we should want to leave for our children and their children and so on. No matter what the cause, anything we do to help change for the better is good—a win-win scenario. the end, it does not matter which dimension is most critical—we should address climate change as we move forward, no matter what the cause or who is to blame (or not) and foster the enthusiasm of the younger generation since they have to deal with the problems that we leave behind.

Phil Hagan, J.D., MBA, MPH is a practicing attorney, professor at Georgetown University, principal at International Risk Management, LLC, and author. He teaches subjects ranging from health impacts of the environment to emergency management.

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