Covid-19 pandemic: Younger generation has realised problems; now they need to change

In the midst of the climate catastrophe, we have the Covid-19 pandemic killing thousands of people daily. Any illusion of functioning global socio-ecological systems is now gone. For the young generation, the future is uncertain, and any hope seems to drain away as we face growing catastrophes. Climate change, social injustice, economic disparities, increased frequency of pandemics, and disasters are bestowed upon the younger generation by those whose economic greed overshadowed other aspects of society.

It is also clear that those who have caused these global catastrophes are not willing to solve them. Young people from around the world have been staging protests demanding urgent and immediate climate actions for the last few years. People have been increasingly fighting for freedom from many different chains in many different shapes. However, this alone has not yet led to any significant change. This recent pandemic is coming at a time when a lot of us have started paying attention and the lack of change has caused anger, frustration, and helplessness, but we have no option but to fight.  This frustration may lead to wider political engagement and change led by a younger generation.

During this Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have become aware of what we could have; free healthcare, affordable school/college, a government that cares enough to work towards mitigating the dooming effects of climate change, and many more. There could be a future where every person has the chance to live with dignity, care, and wellbeing. The younger generation is already aware that if a meagre amount of resources that are spent on wars, conflicts, extractions are transferred to building health and community infrastructure that would have prevented the current dangers that countries around the world are facing because of the pandemic.

This global failure has led the younger generation to recognise that the current economic systems that rely on exploitation and extraction of nature are a danger for our existence. There must be a swift, comprehensive, and systemic change in our systems. We can only resolve the issues of climate change, pandemics, social justice, and ecological sustainability by letting go of individualism and elitism. The younger generation must take it up now across the board and start a new way of thinking and living that ensures everyone’s well-being, including nature. The luxury of time is vanishing.

The current idea of success does not work anymore. The young generation will leave high school and college to face an economic recession, unemployment and increased cost of living. Rich countries are not only unable to contain the virus as they rely entirely on the market economy, for which they must keep open the market system – a cause of virus transmission – but there has been an unprecedented shortage of supplies such as masks, and ventilators.

Countries with a very low level of accumulated wealth and resources to utilise, such as Nepal, are doing relatively better in containing the virus by effectively isolating, testing, tracing, and quarantining infected people. Nepal, with a meagre resource base and a border with the largest populations in the world, has managed to keep total coronavirus cases at about 22 times fewer cases per million of their populations compared to the US, with a large number of cases being from those who contracted the disease before entering Nepali borders.

Wealthy western nations have been hit the hardest with this disease. This clearly shows us that material development and wealth does not guarantee basic safety and decent treatment of citizens. A functioning society should prioritise people over wealth.

However, the current systems do not recognise the opinions of the young generation. Our perspectives do not matter for the political power of the elites as they throw human bodies into the free market and deny any responsibility for clearly preventable deaths.

In this pandemic, we are struggling through a possibility of virus contractions at schools, being involved in essential jobs during the highest rates of infection, and fighting to convince other people to simply wear a mask for public safety. We cannot survive in a future like the one we are seeing right now. For most of our lives, what is bad has only gotten worse and for that to change, entire systems of economy, development ideals, desire for accumulation of wealth, and continued extraction of nature have to change. The challenge for us is how to transform this into a concrete political project that involves every young people around the world so that change becomes inevitable.

As political elites who benefit from the current system continue to be indifferent towards the young generation and their futures, we will come to a point where we have nothing left to lose, and we have everything to gain. Sporadic activism in schools is not enough. We must accept that while it would be beneficial to create a change before we get to the point of ultimate catastrophe, we are getting closer and closer to the breaking point every day.

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Paudel is a Nepali student currently based in the US.

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