Meenakshi Dunga, 16, India

Act responsibly: Nurse our planet back to health

What can I say about climate change that hasn’t already been written, read or discussed? In school we learn about global warming daily from our textbooks; we attend lectures and presentations. The earth is a sick patient whose temperature is slowly rising. Her condition is worsening. So what can I – a 16-year-old who can’t decide what to have for lunch – say or do to make a difference? You might be surprised.

Although we are the caretakers of the planet, we have become too engrossed in our personal lives and our desire to succeed. Oblivious to the wounded world around us, we neglect our duties and responsibilities to the environment. We are quick to remember money owed to us and easily recall when the teacher was away, but we can’t be bothered to unplug appliances to save energy or plant a tree. We can climb Mount Everest, cure illnesses and land on the moon, but we can’t remember to turn off the light when we leave a room or to throw trash in the bin or separate it for recycling.

Many wake-up calls later, we remain asleep – or perhaps we choose not to be roused, thinking that other people will deal with the problem. But they won’t. Gandhi said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” This is our planet, and it is up to us to care for it. Nursing our planet back to health is our responsibility, for the greater good.

My brother and I fight every morning because I insist he take a five-minute shower, using 10–25 gallons of water, instead of a 70-gallon bath. As in the butterfly effect, our daily actions – even minute ones – have far-reaching consequences. They determine whether life on Earth will perish or flourish. Closing the tap while we brush our teeth saves up to 30 litres of water per day. Biking or walking just twice a week can reduce CO2 emissions by 1,600 pounds per year. Properly insulating our houses, thereby using less energy to heat and cool them, also makes a tremendous difference.

These small steps will help the earth, a patient who is struggling and who, I think, is eager to get well soon. We have to wake up and realize that we are accountable not only to ourselves but also to other Nature and future generations. Adolescents: Be more alert, active and engaged. I will continue to spread awareness to family members, friends and neighbours. We must respect our environment and keep it clean and safe. Who knows? One day, our patient might be cured, begin to thrive and become a greener, more beautiful place to live.

Meenakshi Dunga lives in Dwarka, New Delhi. Following her graduation, she plans to study medicine in India and become the best surgeon she can be. Meenakshi also enjoys singing, listening to music and caring for the environment.

Panels

The global state of adolescents; the challenges they face in health, education, protection and participation; and the risks and vulnerabilities of this pivotal stage are looked at closely in a series of panels in the report, available as a PDF.

Essays

Adults and adolescents were invited to give their perspectives on the critical issues facing adolescents in the 21st century.