Young people from around the world have gathered in Berlin for the Youth Sustainability Summit. They are discussing ways to protect the planet, but saving the environment isn't easy.
In front of the Brandenburg Gate, Darth Vader is looking to nab a few tourists. The actor, in a black cape and mask, saunters optimistically toward a large group of American tourists, only to be met with shrugs of disinterest. None of them is willing to cough up a little cash to take a photograph with him. Next to Darth is a group of teenagers in white T-shirts, singing and hopping around wildly. But they don't want money – just attention.
Drin Krasniqi belongs to the group. But he's standing next to them passing out flyers, urging people to do more to protect the environment. "The pamphlets are made of environmentally-friendly paper," says the smiling 17-year-old from Kosovo.
Krasniqi is one of 160 young people from around the world who have come to Berlin on the invitation of the "youthinkgreen" awareness initiative to attend the World Youth Sustainability Summit and discuss climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality. "Together, we are trying to find a solution on how to reconfigure the future," says Krasniqi.
A group of young Bulgarians, for instance, has put on a play about environmental destruction, while Krasniqi and his friends have presented a recycling project for schoolchildren in Kosovo. He says there is not much awareness in Kosovo, and trash is just thrown away on the street.
"The stray dogs are drowning in garbage," he says, laughing. Sometimes he says something to people, but usually not, "because the older ones would give me a hard time."
Krasniqi tries to shrug his shoulders but can't, really, because he's wearing a huge backpack made of colorful, but tattered cloth, stuffed with balloons. It's supposed to represent the globe.
"My message is: there is too much trash on the planet and we need to change that," he says insistently. By we, he means young people. Some day, maybe in 20 years, he wants to be a politician and save the world. He smiles and stalks off toward an older couple, who are somewhat irritated by his backpack.
Politicians don't listen to young people
Petelina Frans is also standing at the Brandenburg Gate. It's not always easy to change things, says the high school student from Namibia. She works on various environmental causes with other young people at her boarding school. They meet with politicians and government ministers to try to convince them to switch to solar power and wind energy.
"There is still this old-fashioned attitude of not listening to children, but if we keep up the pressure, then they will listen. Otherwise, we're going to make their lives difficult," she says with a laugh.
Eventually, the 16-year-old hopes to become an environment lawyer. It would be a first for Namibia, she says.
She doesn't want to leave the country in the hands of politicians who don't care about the environment. "If we're not careful, other countries are going to exploit our resources," she warns.
Before class in the morning, Petelina wanders through her boarding school's bathrooms to turn off water faucets left running and lights left burning. In her free time, she started a project to get students to ride bikes. "My friends all think I'm a bit crazy," she says.
Youth not involved enough
A young German participant at the summit is annoyed that many of her classmates in school are not at all interested. "They have this 'YOLO' attitude," she says, referring to the acronym for 'you only live once.'
In the view of Jakob von Uexküll, the founder of the Right Livelihood Award for human rights and environmental protection, this is a dangerous attitude. "I am amazed that more young people aren't involved," he says. Uexküll is one of the speakers at the summit and talks about how to conduct successful lobby work. Young people, he argues, can achieve a lot. The only thing that matters is not to give up, he emphasized.
When asked whether she will stay active in environment issues later on in life, Petelina turns serious. "If I have kids, I want to set a good example and show them that they have to get involved," she says.
As she heads off to a group of young people, she picks up a tissue blowing in the breeze and stuffs it into a nearby trash bin. Darth Vader is now posing with a somewhat embarrassed teenager in front of the Brandenburg Gate as his parents take a picture, while Drin Krasniqi diligently continues to hand out pamphlets.