How Gen Z sees the world — and our ability to change

(Elina Mariutsa/Northeastern University)

Hello, Planet Forward! I am Matías, a rising high school junior at St. Andrew’s in Maryland. I deeply care about the environment and — due to being young enough that climate change has always existed for me — always have. I have had the virtue of growing up surrounded by people who always have the Earth at the forefront of their mind, and I strive to be someone who makes a difference in respect to climate change.

Being a high school student, a Gen Zer, a zoomer, a kid — whatever you want to call me (though please do not call me a zoomer) — has given me perspective on the issues that we face as a nation and around the world in a rather different way. Just about everyone at my school knows that they have the ability to make a difference, both in awareness and their personal lives, to combat climate change. 

Less and less do I see people simply dismiss our world’s health by saying, “What I do won’t even make a dent.” Instead, I see individuals posting daily on their social media, talking about it with the people around them, reducing their waste, engaging in campaigns, starting those campaigns, and many more small activities that actually make a difference. 

As kids, we all felt climate change. We felt every summer hotter than the last, we watched feet of snow (as recently as 2012!) become winters that barely dip below freezing, we saw this nation politicize climate change. This is a fight I have been fighting since I can remember, and I know it is the same for countless other members of my generation.

So why am I, a vastly underqualified, naïve, out of my place high schooler who does not even have his learner’s permit writing an article for Planet Forward? Well, I feel that there is something a bit different about my generation. Starting from how the “normal” world we grew up in is one unfathomable to those who lived before us. 

Our parents have raised us in a world where we know that if we do not change, we, along with future generations, could suffer. Examples of people my age fighting for social and environmental change are everywhere. Sweden’s 17-year-old Greta Thunberg garnered international attention after her school strikes aimed at convincing the Swedish government to lower carbon emissions, and reached superstar status after sailing all the way to North America to attend the UN Climate Action Summit. Not to mention Seattle’s Jamie Margolin, who started organizing lobbying efforts and protests to promote environmental change at the age of fourteen. Three years later, Margolin has made it onto the BBC’s 100 women of 2019 and co-founded the globally recognized, youth-led nonprofit Zero Hour. 

Our awareness and acceptance of global warming and all of the other effects of climate change are only bolstered by our ability to use the internet. I have heard many people describe my generation as one that is and always has been hooked on the internet, and characterized it as a bad thing. 

The truth, however, is that we are not “hooked.” We have just created a strong virtual community where we can be supported and learn about our interests. The way that social media is set up allows for any person to cultivate a strong, supportive feed that focuses on the most important matters that face us today. If I open Instagram right now, I will without a doubt be greeted with a bare minimum of five posts or stories about how we can change the world for the better. It is amazing what some people can do with their online platform.

It’s these characteristics of my generation that make me supremely proud of being a member of “Gen Z” (or whatever you want to call it). I am inspired by members of my class who, like me, are striving for positive change. In the end, that fact is what makes me want to share the stories of my generation with you. We want environmental change, and Planet Forward is a platform to share the inspiring stories of my generation’s leaders and movements. In the coming weeks, look for stories about how high schoolers are fighting to make a difference, and what can be learned from that. 

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.