Bristol is feeling inspired. Greta Thunberg is coming to town! The speed the news spread shows how much it means to all of us who want a future to look forward to.
Greta is the rock star of our young peoples’ voice – inspiring millions to take action. But I have spent the last 25 years of my life working with young people and I find them all inspiring.
Their energy and openness is a gift to society. They are often the conscience of our communities asking the ‘obvious’ and challenging questions that make us all reconsider how we live our lives and how we structure our society.
Greta challenges us to look at how we value the world around us: “Is it more important that big oil companies make huge profits or that we protect our air and water?”, “Is it more important that we can drive wherever we want or breath clean air?”.
But young people ask other questions too: “Why can I not get the mental health support I need when things are going wrong?”, “Why is my youth centre closing?”, “Why can’t I get the bus to where I want to go to college?”.
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Young people are rarely given a voice yet they are the ones who will be living in the world that we create now. As chief executive of Creative Youth Network, I have spent my career giving them a chance to get their views heard.
Our decisions on everything from tackling climate change to bus routes, education and youth centres will live with the next generation for decades to come.
Often, leaders and experts make decisions based on their experience which may be decades out of date. Climate science has been around for decades for example – as a young person in the 1990s I campaigned to get global warming on the agenda – but the old thinking of economic growth and a throwaway society based on 1960s thinking has dominated.
It is only now that the voices of the young are being heard and society is waking up to the challenges we face.
The best societies blend the experience of age with the new ideas of youth. But our political leaders, both in Bristol and the UK, are continuing to listen only to the voices around them.
Labour thinking on the expansion of Bristol Airport, new road building and the arena in Filton are all examples of thinking from the last century, based around cars and fossil fuels.
By listening to the voices of our young people we can make wiser choices that tackle the big issues like climate change and make our city a fairer place. I know from my youth work that young people in Bristol have been asking for cheaper and better public transport for decades.
The Green Party is committed to that. If we had listened to our young people in Bristol and to Greta we would have a public transport system that is both low carbon and helps young people reach the opportunities and support they need.
Let’s use Greta’s visit to listen not only to her and her message on climate change but also to young people in Bristol. Their challenges will help us to get Bristol moving and make it a greener and fairer place.
Sandy Hore-Ruthven is the Green Party mayoral candidate and chief executive of Creative Youth Network
Main photo by Ellie Pipe