'Doing Nothing Is Not An Option': Meet The 15-Year-Old Voice Of Climate Change Action

Emma Greenwood opened Andy Burnham's Green Summit in Manchester.

“The voices of young people need to be heard,” argues Emma Greenwood. “This is our future and if we don’t do anything, we are going to be stuck with the problems the older generation created.”

Greenwood – at 15 part of a generation who do not have the vote but who will have to face the consequences of inaction on climate change – is, like many of her peers, frustrated by the apparent disinterest and inaction of those who could make a difference today.

A disinterest epitomised by the stark contrast between the thousands of school children who recently took to the streets to strike over climate change, and the predominantly empty House of Commons chamber on the day of a debate on the issue.

“We are the first people who can change things, but we will also be the last people if we don’t do anything,” she says. “People are putting the economy before the environment as it is not convenient and this is going to lead to detrimental effects. Change is no longer an option – it is an obligation. If we don’t change things now, the damage will be irreversible.”

“People need to be more empathetic and worry about the future, not simply ignore it because it might not be their future or they won’t be around to see the damage caused.””

- Emma Greenwood

Politicians’ current preoccupation with Brexit means that the environment isn’t getting the attention is should, Greenwood argues, saying that politicians need to see Brexit in its true context.

“If people end up not having a safe place to go to in the future because the planet has been irreparably damaged, problems like Brexit won’t seem as big or as long lasting in the grand scheme of things.”

The teenager, whose message to politicians and others in positions of power recently went viral when she gave a speech at a #YouthStrike4Climate protest, introduced Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham at the city’s Green Summit – in which young people are contributing to debates and informing decision-makers among the hundreds of delegates about what they want their future to look like.

“The protection of our planet needs to stop coming in second place,” she says.

Emma Greenwood

Burnham agrees that the country is not listening hard enough to the voices of those most likely to be affected by current inaction. “Westminster is not listening to young people.” he tells HuffPost UK. “The urgency young people are looking for on this issue is not being matched by the response of politicians.

“Westminster is not listening on a whole range of fronts. It is so preoccupied with Brexit, it is neglecting a whole range of issues – but this is one of the most important ones.”

“Westminster is not listening to young people ... [it's] not listening on a whole range of fronts."”

- Andy Burnham

Despite this apparent indifference from policy-makers, Greenwood, who lives in Ramsbottom in Greater Manchester, is determined to make her voice heard, and is a youth MP for Bury. “I don’t want to be saying ‘I wish we’d done something sooner’ – that’s why it’s so important for young people to do something now to protect the future,” she explains.

It’s an approach that is admired by Burnham, who praises Greenwood and the other young people campaigning for environmental change, saying: “They are so inspiring as they are making a direct challenge to today’s political class to fight for the changes needed.”

Emma Greenwood

Change shouldn’t only be made by those who will be directly affected. “It shows the selfishness of current generations,” Greenwood argues. “People need to be more empathetic and worry about the future, not simply ignore it because it might not be their future or they won’t be around to see the damage caused.”

And that means worrying about every bit of plastic we use once and then throw away, or where that plastic ends up – often in poorer countries who are then charged with di. “It can take 700 years for plastic to decompose and go away so it will be around drastically longer than you and your future generations,” she says.

“I think many adults think: ‘it’s not affecting me currently’ or know that it won’t affect them in their lifetime so think it doesn’t matter. But they need to consider the bigger picture and the long term consequences.”

The Greater Manchester Green Summit is a chance for young people, residents, businesses and community groups to come together and think about those consequences. Greenwood will join Andy Burnham to launch the region’s environmental plan – the city-region’s bold ambition is to be carbon-neutral by 2038, 12 years ahead of the government’s target.

“If we do nothing, our future will be filled with trying to solve the problems caused by past generations.””

- Emma Greenwood

This plan could see Greater Manchester become one of the globe’s healthiest, cleanest and greenest city-regions – and Burnham, who argues that devolution can deliver the urgent action needed while the country waits for “Westminster to get their act together” – wants young people to play an important role in driving this policy.

“People often say: ‘Let’s get young people involved in politics.’ But then when they do, they ignore them,” the mayor says. “We are listening to them about this issue as it is something that affects the future of every young person in this country and also the world. You can only have a strong society when the current generation has hope.”

Greenwood has, like many of her generation, tried to reduce her own impact on the planet, and encourages others to do so too, trying to get the school canteen to stop using plastic cutlery or other single-use plastics, and highlighting the need for more recycling in schools.

“At home, we tend to shop at local farmers markets and at Bury Market where you can get fruit and veg plastic-free,” she says. “We also go to the local plastic-free shop Plentiful which was the first one in Greater Manchester.”

But it isn’t just about individual decisions, she argues. Companies need to offer more and better plastic-free alternatives, and government needs to get involved to make sure that companies make the necessary changes.

“I want to live in a future that is not littered with rubbish. I want to be able to enjoy life without the worry of climate change or flooding or natural disasters,” Greenwood says.

“I am 15 and hopefully, I might have another 70 plus years in front of me. I don’t want a plastic-polluted future. If we do nothing, our future will be filled with trying to solve the problems caused by past generations.”

Emma Greenwood