Why it's important for young people to talk to parliamentary candidates about climate education

Mystaya Brémaud
May 3, 2024

Young people often feel hidden by a wall of headlines: the mainstream media voices our statistics more often than our opinions, making our every action and inaction a cause for scrutiny and concern. This is the image of young people that politicians predominantly see: breaking news about the latest climate protest, or statistics about low voter turnout. But our opinions are far more nuanced than these headlines and statistics suggest. The thoughts and values of young people can’t be boiled down to a few words. That’s why it’s really important for us to have the chance to meet our political candidates: it's a chance for our voices to be really heard.  

It could be said that young people’s impressions of politicians are also built on headlines and clickbait. Manifestos are predominately communicated to young people via social media, where 71% of 14-16 year olds get their news. The format of social media encourages short and attention-grabbing slogans over in-depth discussions of the reasons behind an action. Social media has great power to spread information, but it is also very capable of spreading misinformation and miscommunication. 

As a result, the majority of the communication between young people and politicians is via slogans, placards, and short social media videos that are inherently simplistic and impersonal. Young people are rarely given the chance to just discuss an issue with politicians. Currently we are facing a crisis of political trust that is hindering meaningful climate action: while 70% of people consider themselves trusting people, only 27% trust in the UK government, and 12% in political parties. 63% of people “had little or no confidence that they have a say in what the government does”. While these statistics don’t refer exclusively to young people, these figures indicate a broader UK political culture that makes it unlikely that young people “see a point” in participating in politics. If we can meet with political candidates it allows a nuanced and tailored discussion of methodology and reasoning that is impossible over the internet. Sitting down to talk enables an understanding of mutual humanity to be established. Being able to see each other as people is key for establishing trust and creating meaningful action. 

Meeting with politicians to talk about climate education is also an education in itself: a political education. Political education is intrinsically intertwined with climate education. We need climate education to inform young people how to address the impacts and offer solutions to climate chaos. Arguably politics is the most fundamental aspect of addressing the climate crisis. Politics decides what action will be taken, when, and how well funded it will be. Politics decides what matters to us as a society, and what actions we need to take to better our world. To understand how to address climate change, young people also need to be equipped with knowledge of the political systems that have delayed action until now. 

Young people currently feel unheard in UK politics: 18 - 24 year olds are the age group least likely to say that British democracy addresses what matters to them. Meeting with parliamentary candidates is a great way for young people to not only get more engaged with politics, but to raise their concerns and values with the people who represent them. Education is an experience universal to all young people: we spend most of our time either at places of education or studying, so changes to the education system have a magnified impact on the daily lives and futures of young people. Yet, it often feels like this importance is not reflected by government attention. In 2021, the government spent the equivalent of 5.3% of the UK’s GDP on education, and while that does amount to billions of pounds, we are still left with crumbling schools and pupils that feel unprepared for the future (as Teach the Future’s research shows). Meeting with politicians ahead of the general election is a key opportunity to bring these issues to the political agenda and get the voices of young people heard.