Having never seen a world without the web, Generation Z (commonly called Gen Z) is dissed for spending too much time on their mobile devices. Born after 1996, these digital natives spend an average of three hours a day on various social media & online applications. Their general disregard for rules and their detachment from social norms makes it quite intimidating for the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) to deal with.
By now, the Gen Z in India have spent approximately 2 years of their formative years inside their house, owing to the COVID-19 Pandemic. On the surface, Gen Z may be seen dancing to ‘Buss It’ or ‘Savage’ on Instagram, but this generation does not stop probing. When they come across news, instead of forwarding it, they “Google it”. They are aware that the main cause of the Coronavirus outbreak has been the destruction of nature. And similarly for issues affecting their world.
However, Gen Z’s concern for the environment was not their own inconvenience. This generation’s children have ‘understood’ climate change while renowned businessmen and presidents called it a ‘myth’. A member of the Gen Z herself, Greta Thunberg started Fridays for Future, a school climate strike movement when she was fifteen. Following this example, most of India’s cities have their own Fridays for Future movement started by volunteers from the Gen Z population.
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The first step to every person’s journey towards being environmentally conscious starts with realising the effect of climate change not just around the world, but to their day-to-day lives and then adapting a more sustainable lifestyle. But what does it mean to lead a sustainable life?
Leading a sustainable lifestyle is essentially attempting to live a life that reduces the resources we borrow from earth. It is to reduce our carbon footprint by making changes to everyday choices of food, transportation, utilities, and energy consumption. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Millennial Survey, India’s Gen Z and Millennials want to make an environmentally sound choice. Gen Z’s inclination towards sustainability is unique. However, an inclination is not going to enough in the long run. The cynicism in Gen Z is often criticised and their apathy is almost worrisome. They are said to be less driven than the Millennials.
Given this bewildering paradox, we must ask ourselves that can Gen Z truly be trusted to ‘save planet Earth’? A typical Gen Z reply to this grave question would be, “Like, do we even have a choice?”, albeit with a lot of sass.
Interestingly, what makes this transition to a sustainable lifestyle easier for the Gen Z, compared to other generations, is the fact that they understand that there is no choice. They have the power and the influence to be the first ones to change an entire family’s lifestyle. According to DNA Webdesk, India’s Gen Z cares more about the world at large than local communities. While some it may be alarming in most scenarios, in this one however, it encourages them to fetch beyond themselves. They are the ones who talk about climate change, global warming, and environmental laws from a greater good point of view and believe that if you solely fight for social injustice, there will come a day where there is no planet to discuss social injustice on.
In the months of July-August 2020 in India, social media saw several campaigns led by Gen Z to sign petitions against the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) draft, 2020, which created furore across the country as it undercut and weakened existing safeguards to the flora, fauna, and natural resources in India.
In a situation like this, Gen Z writes, and signs petitions, reads environmental law drafts, protests against industrialists and elected officials, and sends emails to the Environment Ministry. Not only does this spread awareness among the masses, but also helps their generation hold themselves, communities, businesses, and governments accountable. And this is despite their cynicism. Gen Z is not like this by choice, I like to call it a positive consequence.
Being a member of Gen Z myself, I can tell that we are free of the ‘fight to survive’ that the Boomers went through. We are free of ourselves, than ever before, unlike the Millennials who fought to find themselves. We recognize the privilege of the freedom that we adorn, the freedom to think beyond ourselves. We have grown up seeing natural disasters. From the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, the disastrous 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, followed by the 2005 floods in Mumbai to 2013 Maharashtra drought and the Uttarakhand Flash Floods; we have registered the frequency of natural disasters caused due to climate change in our limited life. On the outside, it seems like we continuously scroll through Instagram, however what lies on the inside is a fear numbing our minds, making us more anxious.
What the Gen Z must realise is that it makes us anxious because we care and not the other way around. Not every generation has felt goosebumps because their leaders made terrible environmental laws. Not every generation has called out crony capitalism that has brought our beautiful mountains, valleys, beaches, and cities to shame. We are aware that we and generations ahead are endangered to the atrocities of climate change. Therefore, we are not just aware, we are active.
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Gen Z, who is approximately 25-26 years old today, is going through transitional phase of their lives where they are forming behaviours, habits; making choices, decisions and temperaments that would last a lifetime. These are the most formative years for the Gen Z.
With International activists like Greta Thunberg to Indian Gen Z activists like Disha Ravi and Licypriya Kangujam; the Gen Z has young changemakers. However, change comes incrementally and in smaller efforts. Every Indian middle-class household will have one big plastic bag that has several plastic bags carefully folded and stored. A small shift would be to ensure that you carry one of those used plastic bags to collect your groceries instead of hoarding them in the kitchen. Basic shifts in mindset such as asking yourself the reason behind your desire for a certain product. Checking its second-hand availability, looking for sustainable alternatives or simply borrowing it; these habits come easy to “GenZers” because they are known to be accepting and fluid in thought.
Gen Z is also known to be enterprising. The recent rise in thrift stores and small businesses on Instagram are largely a Gen Z consequence of changing times. The pandemic gave everyone lemons and the Gen Z chose to sell lemonade. According to DNA Webdesk, India’s Gen Z chooses to maintain their core values and develop their skill sets over making money. This mindset is required for sustainable and ethical businesses to flourish. ‘Social entrepreneurship’ is no longer a ‘holier than thou’ move, it is a fundamental necessity. In fact, as a GenZer, I find it appalling that businesses have flourished when their processes have not been cyclical. Industries accumulate large capital to manufacture but are devoid of the responsibility for their products piling up in the landfills.
I have my eyes on climate change because when I am fifty years old and am chilling on my couch, I know I won’t have the strength to hear that “Mumbai and Kolkata submerged.” I see climate change as an existential problem, and I talk about it; like the several lakhs of GenZers in India who do the same and that makes a difference, even if its incremental.
We must realise our own influence. In the last few months, we have collectively grown to understand the meaning behind simple conversations, the power of vulnerability and the grace in service. Therefore, engaging more people in conversations that empower them to make a sustainable switch comes easy to us. It is time that Gen Z tackles the bull by its horns, I mean “Like, do we even have a choice?”
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