|Lottomatica Foundation and Percorsi di secondo welfare started a collaboration on the topic of sustainability. Our Laboratory will accompany the Foundation in defining a programme agenda that takes sustainability issues into consideration. Alongside more strictly research activities, we will also propose some thematic in-depth studies that will be published on the Foundation’s website. This article is the first of a number of articles we will write on the various facets of social and environmental sustainability. It has been published on the Lottomatica Foundation website and is also available in Italian.|
As explained in a previous article, in recent years the social, economic and environmental challenges facing our society have become increasingly complex. According to many observers, it is necessary to adopt integrated, global and preventative approaches based on the sustainability principles defined by the United Nations 2030 Agenda.
This document, signed in 2015 by the UN’s 193 member countries, defines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ranging from the fight against poverty and the fight to achieve gender equality, from the development of sustainable cities to the protection of the environment, to the creation of increasingly stronger institutional partnerships to ensure a liveable world in which equal rights are guaranteed for all. And ‘all’ also means those who have not yet set foot on Earth. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda, specifies how to meet the “needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to achieve their own”1. Yet, to this day, not even the “all” who already live on Earth seem to be particularly considered by those who are called to take political decisions. At least not in Italy.
We are talking about young people who, despite being very sensitive to sustainability issues, which often results in new forms of activism and personal and/or social commitment, are barely considered by politics. The ones who are most ignored are those belonging to the so-called generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012), despite being those who evidently have the most interest in inheriting a sustainable world: their demands and aspirations are perhaps those considered less.
Youth activism and politics
Yet, as mentioned, many young people are now actively engaged in promoting sustainability and improving the conditions of the places where they live and the people who live there. Beyond the great movements that have taken hold in recent years, such as Fridays for Future, which have spread above all thanks to the commitment Greta Thunberg, many young people with different lifestyles seek to address environmental and social sustainability issues in a creative and effective way, despite the great difficulties that this entails.
According to recent research by IPSOS, following the Covid-19 pandemic, 41% of young people in Gen Z feel rather disaffected (41%), fragile (31%) and sad (28%), and in general 44% of those under 25 perceive themselves as “excluded from society”. However, this does not mean giving up. Compared to their parents’ generation, they show twice as much courage (14% vs. 6%) and depth (18% vs. 9%), but above all they want to commit to changing reality: 74% of them say so. To do this, the young people who participated in the study have indicated some priority objectives: the environment, wealth redistribution, stability at work, gender equality and solidarity between people. In one word: sustainability.
The how, however, often remains relegated to personal commitment – greater use of public transport, reduction of food waste, fewer purchases – or, at most, to adherence to projects, initiatives and awareness– raising events. In the case of the oldest members of Gen Z, this commitment is also expressed in a new concept of entrepreneurship, precisely a more sustainable one, which pushes to establish social enterprises or benefit companies that seek to solve present and future sustainability problems.
However, these varied efforts often remain unheard by decision-makers. And the consequences are also seen in young people’s participation in political life. As Maurizio Ferrera wrote in the Corriere della Sera following the elections in Lombardy and Lazio – which recorded the lowest turnout rates since the regional vote (41.7% and 37.2% respectively) – Eurobarometer data tell us that young people between 16 and 30 who have no interest in politics constitute only 10%; the rest are generally interested.
The problem is that about 40% do not consider voting an effective tool to make their voice heard and this is why they prefer to engage in demonstrations or protest movements, petitions or direct contact with politicians and administrators. “This is reflected in the turnout: many young people do not vote, few are candidates or are nominated, even fewer are elected,” Ferrera wrote. In other words, young people are very active and interested, certainly more so than other generations, but they do not consider representative politics the right instrument to pursue their own purposes.
This representation deficit “further increases the political weight of the elderly, which is already strong due to demographic ageing and the fact that abstentionism tends to decrease with age,” Ferrera added. And since politicians are, in theory, required to respond to those who vote for them, the low participation of young people – who already weigh little – relegates the issues dear to them even more to the margins.
More education for all
So how can we intervene to ensure that sustainability, which is so central to the concerns of young people, also weighs in political decisions?
On the one hand, greater educational commitments would be needed starting from schools: at the moment only 15% of young people say they have never received stimuli from the school system to engage in public life. This educational effort, which reductively we could indicate as ‘civic’, should however also be supported by the media and intermediate bodies, including Foundations, which could play an important role in intercepting young people and channelling their activism along routes that are capable of influencing institutional choices more.
On the other hand, it is even more important to educate institutions and our political class, currently flattened on decisions linked to short-term consensus and apparently unable to understand that listening to young people’s voice is fundamental to guarantee not only future sustainability, but the very existence of Italian society. Indeed, the low participation of young people in political life might further weaken a democratic system that has been severely tested by the events of recent years, but might also lead many young people to choose to leave a country that does not consider them and does not listen to them. It seems almost trivial to say, but how can we guarantee a future for Italy if no one, starting from the youngest, is willing to invest in it?
In this sense, a signal to change course could come from a strong decision, such as that of lowering the voting age. What could appear at worst as a utopian and, at best, as a naive route, could indeed send a strong message to young people who, as said, feel demoralised but still want to change the world. Alongside policies that are more attentive to their needs, which however at this stage should be top-down policies in view of an institutional awareness of the future, it is necessary to tell young people that their voice counts. As researcher Elisabetta Cibinel explains in detail, voting at 16 can be a stimulus both for boys and girls and for the social systems they live in to reverse a downhill trend we cannot afford.
- For further information on the contents of the 2030 Agenda, please refer to the website ASviS – Alleanza Italiana per lo Sviluppo Sostenibile.