Generation Z: glued to their phones for social reform

April 12, 2019 16:02
Youngsters join the global day of action to demand action on climate change. Photo: Reuters

Kids, what do they know? If you only read certain segments of the media you might think the young generation are spoiled, entitled, and stuck on their phones.

That’s what many people from older generations think. Yes, from the people who have put a stranglehold on wealth, destroyed the environment, and left the world in a state of geopolitical imbalance, but still have the nerve to criticize the victims: our youngsters.

Glued to their phones? Maybe the kids are using technology for good.

Generation Z (born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s) and Millennials led Hong Kong’s recent social movements: The push-back against national education, the umbrella movement and now, a school boycott to pressure the government over climate change.

The latest action on March 15 saw an estimated 1,000 students join in a global day of action, calling on the Environment Bureau to listen to their voices in creating policies.

“Hong Kong always prides itself in being Asia's World City and to lead climate action in Asia would be a great step for us as a city,” says Ewan Windebank, part of the organizing committee of the protest.

Hong Kong is notorious for its lack of innovation on green issues, and responsible for a large amount of waste. Landfills are up to the brim, air varies in quality, and not much action has been taken on a range of environmental issues. Everyone is passing the buck, or at least the trash.

Instead of taking a green leadership role among Asian cities, Hong Kong is behind massive infrastructure projects of untold environmental degradation.

“The governments across the world are pushing us youngsters through the 'best' education there has ever been, all so that we have a better future. But the governments aren't doing enough to ensure there is a future for us to live in,” says Windebank.

So with the city’s students busy trying to get good grades, how was the response? “Students were quite supportive of our movement in international schools. Parents also supported their children for the most part by helping make signs and some even went the extra mile to come join our march,” says Windebank.

But the protest was “not able to reach the local students and parents that well. Because academics have a very high priority in Hong Kong, most students and parents did not actively participate in our movement,” adds Windebank.

The students are meeting legislators and the Environmental Bureau, but the latter rejected a request for youth representation in the Steering Committee for Climate Change, it being an internal government committee.

Like most activists, the kids have been met with deaf ears, probably a situation that will be slow to change. Aside from surveying schools on climate change issues, they are now focused on creating a new committee on combating climate change that includes members of the public, NGOs and youth representatives.

The kids are also fighting for the introduction of a new role: Commissioner for Combating Climate Change, and applying for a debate in the Legislative Council and a public hearing on the issue.

A student meeting with Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing after the protest was deemed by Windebank to be inclusive: “Although they clearly seemed to be interested in our ideas, they don't seem to see this as an urgent matter as of yet.”

The next global strike, organized by Friday For Future, is scheduled for May 24. “Prior to then, we will try to get more local students involved, as we believe that that was something lacking in the previous strike,” adds Windebank.

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EJI contributor