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Leaders of the future talk climate change, personal responsibility and Greta Thunberg

Medway's youth is battling age discrimination just to make themselves heard as they try to make a difference within their community.

That's the message from 18-year-old Anna McGovern, who is the chairman of Medway Youth Council.

She opened her organisation's annual conference this year by saying: “Young people are often subject to ageism, talked down to by adults who apparently know better.”

Anna thinks her generation have a whole host of new ideas and views to help shape their future communities and says young people and their ideas should not be pushed aside.

She said: “We have received comments in the past that we’re ‘just a talking shop’ and ‘what can young people do?’ I think that's absolutely wrong.

"We're a whole new generation and we are the future generations of adults. I think we have a whole host of new ideas and views to bring to the table.

“I think sometimes adults can sort of push young people aside and they don't necessarily think we're capable of doing anything. But actually having this organisation that is youth led proves it wrong. We've got really intelligent and outstanding young people within our youth council.”

Medway Youth Council, finishing up the conference with a group picture
Medway Youth Council, finishing up the conference with a group picture

The youth council is a non-party political group run by young people to highlight their voices and run campaigns for the issues they care about.

The young people who belong to it show their enthusiasm for discussing the big issues around them by voting on what they are passionate about.

In previous years, bulling, public health and knife crime have come out on top.

This year, Medway's young people overwhelmingly voted for 'Climate Change - a real threat to our future!' to rally about.

Anna adds that it is important for young people to have this voice so that it can be accessed by decision makers who will listen to a non-political youth perspective.

She added: “We have two members from the youth council that represent us on Medway Council's children and young people's committee, which means that we're able to scrutinize all their reports and give feedback."

Oliver Brake, Christina Arena, Ahsan Iftikhar and Esme Hehir
Oliver Brake, Christina Arena, Ahsan Iftikhar and Esme Hehir

Oliver Branch, 16, also represents Medway at the UK Youth Parliament, is a particularly passionate young voice on the council, especially on climate change.

He said: "It's not hyperbole to call climate change an existential crisis. Anyone facing an existential crisis would be panicking, would be passionate and would want to make a change."

He added that young people often talk about inept politicians when they themselves are the next generation of leaders.

In whatever path they take, he says it is his generation's responsibility to take politics and threats like climate change seriously and make a difference.

Oliver ran a workshop at the conference which focused on consumer choices and got young people to question where the responsibility for climate change lies.

He added: “I think that individuals have a role to play. But we live in a system where our lifestyles are innately carbon intensive. When most people switch the lights on they’re burning fossil fuels.

Group picture of Medway Youth Council
Group picture of Medway Youth Council

“Those who help us make those choices, who push us towards certain behaviours, the governments and corporations, they have a lot of responsibility as well.

"A climate emergency is meaningless if you don't do anything and if it's still not the number one priority, as it should be.”

Oliver also implores young people to inform themselves properly, starting with the UN (United Nations) and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports.

He added: “That's all our responsibility as a generation. Young people need to be informed and that's where passion comes from; information.”

A workshop which put their knowledge to the test at the conference was co-led by Christina Arena, 18, and Ahsan Iftikhar, 16.

The teenagers thought snow leopards must be extremely endangered because they are often featured in the media.

However, all but one thought that the bramble cay melomys, which is a rodent, was safe because they had never heard of it, when in fact it was deemed an extinct species in 2016.

MYC panel, including a Medway Youth Council member, a climate scientist, Medway council members tackling climate change and executive director of Medway Youth Climate Change Movement
MYC panel, including a Medway Youth Council member, a climate scientist, Medway council members tackling climate change and executive director of Medway Youth Climate Change Movement

Christina, who is vice-chairman of the council, said: “I think it's because the media has such a big impact on us. These animals aren't in the media because they're not going to sell the cuddly toys and they're not going to sell the stickers, because they're not as cute and they're not as fluffy.”

Students were also asked what percentage of animals they thought had gone extinct in the last 40 years and many guessed around 15%, when the true figure is actually around 60%. Ahsan who is campaign leader at the council, was not disheartened but enthusiastic about how little attendees knew.

He said: “I love the fact that they didn't know. It tells people in power that what they're doing isn't enough. We can always do more to make people more aware, more informed about what a big crisis this actually is.”

Esme Hehir is 17 and in charge of health matters for the organisation.

Her workshop focused on direct action on climate change and asked students what they think could be done in Medway to tackle climate change.

Anna McGovern opening the annual conference
Anna McGovern opening the annual conference

They came up with a range of ideas, including a free public transport day, rubbish collections, introducing London bikes in the Towns and running schools on solar energy.

The group also discussed schoolgirl climate change warrior Greta Thunberg, agreeing that her most inspiring action was sitting outside the Swedish Parliament holding a sign that read 'skolstrejk för klimatet!' (school strike for the climate).

This spurred young people into action, leading to the school climate strikes.

Esme said: "I think she is an inspiration for young people as they can see that you don't have to just leave it to the people in power, you can actually do something about climate change as well. She is our age so if she can do it so can we.”

Esme hopes that seeing the young climate activist take action will encourage young people to feel more confident to write to their councils themselves, demanding their proposed changes.

Speakers at the event also recommended eating less meat, flying less, using less technology and using alternate travel to cars. They also recommended learning more about climate change, taking direct action in communities and talking to family and friends about climate change.

Ideas and topics discussed during the day will be shared with organisations in the area and will also be published online.

Anna will continue to lead the council in the future and added: "The main goal for us is really to expand in our diversity and make sure that everyone has a voice within the youth council.

"We will continue to reinforce our ethos, carry on our campaigns and work forward in the community.”

To find out more about the group and when they are next getting together, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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