Why Environmentalism and Exchanges are a Perfect Match

In an era in which “all politics is local,” there is perhaps no issue that is more global than the environment. While pollution of the soil can be contained (to a point), water and air pollution are notoriously “cross-border” in nature.

If we look at the world as a snow globe, 70% of which is a single interconnected ocean, perhaps we would be more cognizant of the way we interact with these critical elements. Young people have been keen (even “hip”?) to the way mankind has been, at worse, abusive, and at best, benign toward protection of the environment since the 1960s. But, most young people grow old and become more concerned with raising a family and assuring a minimum economic level to support that family.

And, the environment continues to deteriorate.

We believe we need to continue to connect young people through exchanges – and to promote the outcomes of their efforts – to affect lasting change that will hopefully last as these young people age. Many of our programs have helped participants from around the world to come together to help inspire them to take a long-term view on environmental and energy issues. But one stands out: the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).

Photo Credit: Mollie Taylor (YSEALI)

YSEALI: Environmentalism and the Power of Exchanges

The YSEALI Generation Earth workshop took place in Siem Reap, Cambodia in April. This four-day workshop brought together nearly 100 Southeast Asian and American young people to share best practices and resources to address a wide variety of environmental sustainability issues. YSEALI is an effort of the Obama Administration to unite the rising generation of young people from the 10 ASEAN member nations, and to signal support for their professional development by the government and people of the United States.

My involvement in the workshop blew open my naïve understanding of rapidly-evolving Southeast Asia. I always admired the region (lived there when I was young), but the collection of amazing characters we brought to this workshop whacked me in the head – opening my eyes to their passion, a yearning to make a positive difference in their communities (and the world), and let’s be honest, their impatience.

The YSEALI Generation Earth in April 2015 gave new meaning to “immersive learning.” Photo credit: Todd Freimuth

The young people in Southeast Asia recognize and honor what their parents and grandparents did to stabilize the region, grow their economies, and gain a confident footing in a strategic part of the world. But, they also fear this was done at the expense of consideration for the environment. They are making it clear that they want to be part of a solution to address problems such as waste management, management of water resources, and saving forest ecosystems. And, they want this…now.

Cambodia was evidence that these young people are infused with a passion for addressing global challenges. And they are aiming their passion toward building a cleaner and more environmentally sustainable ASEAN region – which can only help the entire world. To paraphrase one the participants of the Cambodia workshop: “We are creating our weapons of mass instruction.”

“We are creating our weapons of mass instruction” @YSEALI #YSEALIoceans

Click To Tweet

The Next Chapter: YSEALI Generation OCEANS

From March 16-20, we’ll be administering the YSEALI Generation Oceans workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia. We’re bringing 64 rising leaders to develop policy, technical, and civil society solutions for the most serious marine and coastal problems. They will develop action plans and real-world applications to make change possible, collaborating with young people all over the ASEAN region.

We can’t wait to see the impact these young leaders make on their environment and communities. The exchange community goes to great effort to figure out and communicate the impact, specifically “economic benefits,” of international exchange.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could someday measure and report on the reduction in greenhouse gases or the number of plastic bottles kept from entering the ocean resulting from knowledge and experience gained from an international exchange?

Such an “adapt and trade” quotient may end up being the key factor in keeping our snow globe clear and blue.

Find out more about YSEALI Generation Oceans and follow along with #YSEALIoceans