EU campaign calls on young people to help reduce greenhouse emissions

Turn down. Switch off. Recycle. Walk. Change. Those are five simple recommendations the European Commission is calling on people to follow in an effort to raise awareness of climate change and possible ways to reduce its speed.

In order to educate individuals on the factors contributing to climate change as well as to influence them to try and stop its progression, the European Commission has launched a campaign, now targeted specifically at young people. In the short and snappy recommendations it asks them to turn down the heating, switch off lights that aren't needed, recycle waste and walk or cycle to school instead of driving. As part of the campaign a lecture was held in one of Prague's high schools this week. Teachers and experts tried to explain to students that they themselves can control climate change.

During the class, a geography teacher showed her 18-year-old students photos of receding glaciers in different parts of the world and explained the various ways in which greenhouse gases get into the atmosphere. From now until mid-December, as part of the campaign students and teachers can sign a pledge, either individually or as a group, to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by making small changes to their daily behaviour.

Ladislav Miko represented the European Commission at the discussion.

"The campaign is targeted at every citizen of the European Union and in particular, we are just starting Phase 2 which is specifically focused on schoolchildren."

And what are the young people being told? How is the campaign conducted? Is it special classes or is it competitions?

"I think it is all of that but what is most important is we are asking them to look at the webpage of the campaign and to behave according to the recommendations which are presented there. It is more than 50 recommendations of small actions which could be done every day and which are contributing to the climate change mitigation."

What are they, for example?

"It's just such simple things like switching off computers or TV sets instead of a stand-by regime. Or heating the rooms maybe one degree less. All this could contribute substantially if everyone adapts to this behaviour."

Photo: European Commission
Young people tend to be difficult to motivate to change their behaviour. How are you going motivate them to change and observe maybe these things which might not be attractive for them?

"I do believe that if they have clear reasoning and clear understanding of the problem, they are able and willing to change. I don't believe they will change their behaviour if they don't see a real reason and real results but we try exactly by this campaign to show that the results are possible and could be very substantial if really a big part, at least, of the community is following the recommendations."

Do you believe that if you teach young people, if you show them what can be done differently, that they can in turn teach their parents or inspire their parents to change their behaviour?

"I am quite sure that there is a strong influence. At the same time I also believe that the young people are thinking about their future and they know that after 20 years they will have to live on this Earth and they care about that, what conditions they will have for their life, so I think this is quite a strong incentive to think about how to try to influence it."

One of the speakers during the lecture was Dusan Vacha from the Czech Hydro-Meteorological Office. Among other things, he explained to the students that not all greenhouse gases are man-made but that it is also other living organisms that produce those gases.

"As concerns agriculture, there are two main groups of emissions. It is fugitive emissions from animals, mainly cows and the other type of emissions come from the soil. It is nitrogen oxides from using fertilisers. The methane emissions are from animals. So if people eat more vegetables and cereals than meat, they save methane emissions."

How else can individuals in the Czech Republic influence or help reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases?

"It is very simple and on the other hand it is very, very difficult because every energy which is not consumed saves emissions and also helps reduce the impact of climate change and also every product which is not consumed, also helps. But it is a problem not to consume energy and products."

But what do the students themselves think of all that? After the lesson, I talked to one of them, 18-year-old Tomas. I asked him whether he was going to take part in the project.

Photo: European Commission
"Well, I have to talk first with the other students. We might but I don't know yet."

Do you know how you personally can help reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases?

"Well, maybe I could start with turning off the computer when I don't use it, maybe turn off the heater a bit. Or something like that."

How about recycling - do you recycle?

"Sometimes bottles but not that much, I think I should recycle more."

Here at school, do you have some kind of recycling policy?

"We don't have a policy. But we have boxes for bottles and we have bottles for papers and stuff and we are supposed to put them in there but we don't have to if we don't want to. So it's like a policy."

Are you yourself concerned about climate change?

"Well, I think everybody should be concerned. It's an important matter and each one of us can feel it. In twenty years we might all be living in a completely different climate. Everything can change, so I don't know."

What you heard today - did you know all of that or was some of the information new for you, about climate change globally, about greenhouse gases etc.?

"I heard a couple of new facts about what might happen in the future, about those glaciers that they might melt. I knew that but I didn't know they can melt that much that 70 million people would have to move out from the place they are living at right now. It's pretty important."

And how about transport: cars, buses, motorcycles - how do you travel to school?

"I walk to school but I think the biggest problem in the Czech Republic is that we have old cars so we have to renew them somehow because the old cars are worse for the climate than the new ones..."

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