Young people across the world are today raising their voices in anger protest! They are legitimately upset because their lives and their future are being adversely affected by climate change, pollution and a variety of other environmental factors. As they demand change, they also pledge to make the necessary changes in their own lives to improve the environmental scenario. These sentiments of young people are well described by Pope Francis when he says: “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.” (LS 13). Further, the Pope states that “young people have a new ecological sensitivity and a generous spirit, and some of them are making admirable efforts to protect the environment” (LS 209).The Salesians of Don Bosco have well understood the angst young people are experiencing in the face of the environmental crisis. Hence, the Salesians have been working closely with youngsters globally to address these issues. One such major issue is Air Pollution, which is the theme of World Environment Day 2019. UN Environment, announcing this theme, stated that: “Approximately 7 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution, with about 4 million of these deaths occurring in Asia-Pacific. World Environment Day 2019 will urge governments, industry, communities, and individuals to come together to explore renewable energy and green technologies, and improve air quality in cities and regions across the world.”
According to research studies, effects of air pollution are more serious on children than on adults. Since children are still growing, air pollution harms them during the developmental stage of their life, causing lifelong health problems. Exposure to air pollution at a young age can hinder lung growth, inhibit brain development and increase the risk of conditions such as asthma and pneumonia. Illnesses due to air pollution could result in children missing school days, thus impacting their education. Reports also suggest that poor air quality may be associated with mental health problems. Research indicates that children exposed to polluted air at a younger age are at in danger of developing clinical depression as they grow older. Negative mental health can have adverse influence on many aspects of life including daily activities, social interactions, and educational achievements. These influences are more pronounced in young people, thereby placing them at risk of numerous societal problems leading to exclusion and exploitation.
In the face of this serious threat caused by air pollution, young people today are raising their voices to demand: “Don’t Suffocate Our Future!” Don Bosco institutions, organizations and networks all over the world will use the opportunity of World Environment Day 2019, to make this demand of young people heard, both, by civil society and especially by decision makers. In this context, Don Bosco Green Alliance and Don Bosco Network are promoting the global campaign – “Don’t Suffocate Our Future!” – for World Environment Day 2019.
This campaign, which will run from 1st May to 5th June, seeks to: promote awareness and education on air pollution, especially its impacts on young people and their future; and also highlight best practices that prevent air pollution; increase youth participation in actions that address air pollution, by engaging them in capacity building workshops and conferences on how to combat air pollution and also involving them in demonstrations and other public actions; engage young people in advocacy for curbing sources of air pollution, by empowering them with the ability to influence decisions made at local, national and global levels.
Among the activities planned for this month-long campaign are: workshops, panel discussions and debates by experts on the impact of air pollution; tree plantation drives to reduce pollution; writing letters to policy makers (local elected representatives) to take concrete action on air pollution in the neighbourhood; organizing a “Youth for Clean Air” festival with speeches by influential speakers and musical performances by local musicians; etc.
5th June, World Environment Day, will be celebrated by holding silent marches by young people wearing the symbolic anti-pollution masks made out of recycled materials to draw attention towards the hazards of air pollution. They will carry placards with them, bearing the theme: “Don’t Suffocate Our Future!” The young people will also present memorandums to the local authorities, demanding that action be taken to ensure an improvement in the air quality.
We hope that all these activities of the campaign will help make a positive contribution towards bettering the air we breathe. Clean air is definitely one of our most fundamental rights!