Young people will not solve these complex issues for us. But their clarity of thinking may help us untangle our complicated thinking and ignite the sense of urgency and uncompromising direction we need to see more clearly. ‘If we go on like this, the earth will just give up,’ a 9-year old girl told me recently. Huge, complex issues such as the energy transition, global warming and the depletion of oceans are indeed also very much about our own lives, attitudes and the choices we make. Why do we shower longer than 5 minutes? Why do we buy things we do not actually need? Why do we keep accepting plastic bags?
‘If you assemble something in a clean way, it’s also clean when you take it apart,’ the same 9-year old girl said. Indeed, we use limited natural resources to make countless products, many of which we simply throw away if we think we do not need them any longer. Make, use, dispose. Our linear thinking leads us nowhere. Actions have consequences. Where the young girl naturally thinks in circles, we adults tend to think in lines, while knowing that the world is not linear. Our waste does not simply disappear. Endless patches of plastic waste, some hundreds times larger than the Netherlands, are floating around in the oceans, with deadly consequences for millions of animals. The consequences of our actions are already visibly affecting the lives of our children. Crops are failing. People are fleeing. Water is becoming scarce. Species are going extinct.
And then a 10-year old boy told me recently that ‘innovation is sharing.’ I asked him why. ‘Because only if you share an idea with others, you will achieve something with it,’ he answered. ‘But to share, you need to feel good about yourself,’ another boy added. ‘Otherwise you are afraid to ask questions. And you can only work together if you ask questions and share what you know and share what you don’t know.’
Right again. Smart and innovative solutions emerge when people commit to a shared goal and work together while admitting they don’t have all the answers up front. That’s what underpins the We-nose initiative that was launched recently. This unique network initiative has been initiated and embraced by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, the DCMR, VRR, Deltalinqs and the City of Rotterdam. Each player takes individual responsibility around a shared wish to reduce environmental nuisance of stench. It’s learning by doing as more and more partners can join the network.
Nature does not keep on giving. This might be a complex notion, but complicated? I am glad that solutions are often closer than we think, especially for the 9-year old girl and 10-year old boy. After all, they need to bear the consequences of our choices today. Isn’t that something we all understand? Listening to children’s logic for inspiration is complex, but much less complicated than we think.