At the age of 10, a phone was dropped into my hand, and we became fast friends. Now that I’m 18, I feel as if my hand remains permanently attached to it, for better or worse, and my freedom of speech has been restricted to 280 characters or less.

With my generation’s thoughts amplified, our concerns and fears plastered on the walls of Instagram, you would think change and progress for environmental and climate issues would be tackled. Instead, my generation has weaved itself into a network of disinformation and greenwashing, with too many infographics leaving us feeling increasingly more helpless and hopeless for a changed future. 

With our concerns weighing heavy, Press Start’s 2022 CoLab program aims to empower young people to solve the problems we find most pressing to our generation by hosting several online events throughout the summer. Recently, they asked the incoming generation of Canadian youth: what are the most pressing social issues facing your generation? The answers were, not surprisingly, these three: climate change grief, misinformation, and youth mental health. 

I was eager to join the discussion and was impressed with the passionate and informative speakers who helped cut through the dark and shine a light on what we can do to address these issues and enable change. 

Nivi Achanta, founder and CEO of SoapBox Project, kicked off the discussion by addressing the overwhelming sense of climate change grief and hopelessness that is affecting me and my generation. Climate grief, she states, is: “the feeling of frustration because things out of our control are happening to our planet.” Furthermore, there’s the collective grieving we currently experience, due to an enormous feeling of loss. Loss, in this case, manifests in different ways as a loss of motivation, loss of stability, and most present to me personally, the loss of hope. 

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Nivi Achanta, founder and CEO of SoapBox Project.

These sentiments resonate. The hope that used to fill me from head to toe, now lies shattered at my feet with each scroll on my phone. Through each post or news item laced with negativity, “our emotional response to these facts and images are fight, flight or freeze,” said Achanta. Sadly, based on what I’ve noticed, is that my peers and I tend to fall into the “flight” category. This action of taking flight, paired with the scarcity of hope within us, will lead to nothing but failure if we do not initiate change. 

Where should change begin, do I think? Within the white space between every printed word. This means dissecting and investigating each and every sentence published online, or as I was taught in first year university, “read everything in the media as if it is April Fools’ Day.” Misinformation, and its accomplice disinformation, work hand in hand to spread false information, whether it’s unintentionally, as satire, as a form of greenwashing, or as clickbait. 

Takara Small, a technology columnist for CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, shared five of the infamous ways where misinformation is spread, which are through informal groups, sponsored content, social media memes, old news, and inaccurate articles. Although true, this doesn’t leave media consumers feeling too confident, as it covers just about the entirety of our media landscape. 

Takara Small, Technology columnist for CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

There are ways to combat this though, emphasized Small. In addition to consuming media skeptically, try checking the social media profile, checking the sources, looking for second and third validation, or using the reverse image search tool. These simple tools, although obvious, are crucial to dismantling misinformation and disinformation in the media especially for those seeking to sort through complicated scientific and political perspectives on environmental and climate issues. Often, disinformation of this subject matter is the hardest to spot because it is something we wish were true, and something that caters to the void of hope for a solution to the greatest challenge we all face. 

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While the webinar was relatable and addressed the pressing concerns of my generation, what stuck with me the most was the overwhelming passion and urge to enact change. Fae Johnstone, the executive director of Wisdom2Action, said it best: “Let the rage, hurt, and frustration motivate you, and lean into the anger.” I completely agree. Instead of taking flight, or letting this pit of lost hope swallow us, my generation must fight. 

Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action.

Recognize exaggerations, examine interconnections, turn ideas into actions, regulate your media diet, and focus on your passions so you can apply them to work that needs to be done; these were all important takeaways from the webinar. 

As Johnstone shared, “you will never feel like an expert in an issue, until you let yourself be an expert in the issue,” whether that’s advocating for your local green space or encouraging industry to embrace higher environmental standards, immerse yourself in it. 

This won’t be easy, nor should it be easy, but it gave me hope that the hope lost within my generation will be restored and that action can and will be taken. When we know better, we can do better – and that makes us feel better. 

To watch the complete webinar and join the conversation, click here

 

Claire Latham, honour roll student and multimedia storyteller in the making, is entering her second year of the Media Information and Technoculture program at Western University. This is the inaugural edition of Environment Journal’s NextGen Leadership column.

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Featured image credit: Sourced from Getty Images, created by Claire Latham

Other image credits: Medium.com, CBC Media Centre, faejohnstone.com

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