Just before Christmas, I went for coffee with Martin Powell, a twenty-one year old poet from Devon who's work was selected to open the CNN debate on Climate Change at Copenhagen. As Martin explained to me what sparked his interest in global issues, I was immediately struck by his sincerity and genuine concern about the state of our planet. Soon after 9/11, during his early teens, Martin found himself engrossed in the subsequent cascade of military action, but unable to understand the reason why war was breaking out. Brought to tears by the scenes aired on TV, Martin started expressing his feelings through poetry. He kept his poems private for years, until a friend persuaded him to make use of the work. Martin now plans to make a career from poetry and is currently involved in local environmental projects.
Martin's experience is similar to that of many youngsters faced with facts in our society that don't fit the values of kindness and caring so sternly drummed into them as children. As we develop from children, unashamed to question certain ‘accepted truths’, into adults with the ability to discern right from wrong - there is a precious window of time before we become distracted by the need to earn enough money for one's partner, children, dog…and of course white paint for the picket fence. During this time, youths seem more immune to the excuses used to justify war, unfair economics or environmental degradation and many feel an urge to make a real positive change in the world.
However, the question which remains nagging in my mind, is how can this bank of energy be harnessed before emotional detachment sets in? Of course, youth groups, charities and schemes exist to support such willing youngsters, but the impact they are able to make is severely limited by the miniscule resources available to them and the staff running these organisations are required to spend far too much time struggling for the next round of cash. Once again, human values take second place to monetary necessity.
It seems like a no win situation! But, maybe we can look to Bhutan for a key to the economic lock blocking the way. By introducing ‘Gross National Happiness’ values into the educational system Bhutan is restoring balance to their curriculum and giving credibility to those who stand for peace and sustainability. Let’s hope other countries follow their lead so that future generations will be able, as well as willing, to turn things around.
CNN debate on Climate Change at Copenhagen
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Gross National Happiness by Rajni Bakshi