Lillie is a founder of Young ACAN. This is her speech at the launch of ACAN’s “Listen to the Children” exhibition at Alton Community Centre on 29 January 2023. The exhibition is open for all to view in St Lawrence’s Church, Alton, until 9th February, when it transfers to Petersfield for a fortnight. It will return to Alton at the end of February.

For me, the climate crisis is first and foremost a children’s rights crisis. It is our futures that are being ripped away from us, it is our voices that governments globally choose to ignore, and it is our time that is burning down as the forests do.

It is often put forward that it will be my generation, and the generations that come after me, that will somehow solve the issue of climate change, but that would require the luxury of time, which we simply don’t have. If children are not considered old enough to vote, to take out loans, to make major life decisions, why on earth should we be considered old enough to single-handedly save the planet from destruction? It’s madness!

It is hard to put into a person’s mind what they never had in childhood. This is why it is so important for us that children are fully immersed in nature, that they see and understand its importance, its beauty. It is necessary for the survival of the planet that today’s children cultivate a deep love for earth’s wildlife, and it is a love that should not be difficult to grow. As George Eliot said “we could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it.”

Children prove time and time again to be among the most connected of us to the earth, as the quotes in this photo-book tell us. But nature is fading more rapidly than they have the chance to grow up within it. And it is beyond painful to imagine that the next generation will not have the same experiences as the generation before them, as biodiversity fades rapidly by the day.

Whilst my own childhood was certainly not devoid of nature, looking back on it, biodiversity was scarce even then. The open, rolling fields and agricultural land so closely associated in my mind with the ‘Great British Countryside’ is in fact the remnants of an ecosystem hanging by a thread.

The UK has lost almost half of its wildlife and plant species as a result of human and land development since the Industrial Revolution, placing us in the bottom 10% of the world and the worst amongst the G7 nations.

It should be noted that the world average needs to be at 90% in order to avoid an ‘ecological meltdown’ which could result in global starvation.

It is, therefore, no longer a question of how far we can exploit the planet’s resources until it breaks, but a question of when it will break, and what will happen when it does.

Though when we think about the climate crisis, our minds immediately turn to the devastating consequences of global warming – catastrophic weather events, famine, drought – our lives will also change on a much smaller, local level.

Nature will become so much more inaccessible, and scarce. The multitude of colour that covers the countryside in the spring will instead be monochrome, birdsong a single note rather than an entire melody, the soil depleted and the insects (which I must admit I have only ever admired from afar) hidden from sight, gone.

It is a loss with unthinkable consequences, and accompanied by a wealth of emotional suffering. A world with no colour, no life, is no world at all, and it is certainly not a world that I would wish for anyone to grow up in. But this is the legacy that we are passing on to the next generations, or rather, the legacy that we are depriving the next generations of. How selfish are we?

It should then, become our priority that we find a way to protect that sanctity – the great outdoors – and that we cherish our experiences within it all the more. It is hard to educate people on the necessity of protecting the planet, so perhaps it is time that we instead show them, so that they might find the love for the earth that children seem to be born with.

I hope that when viewing this exhibition, and looking through the quotes from the photo-book, you will rekindle your own connection with our earth, and fuel a passion for saving it so that the children quoted here today are able to continue to grow within a green planet. Thank you.

Lillie Ewins, Young ACAN Ambassador

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