When Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg went on strike from school last August to protest against world leader’s inaction towards climate change, no one could have imagined the impact her statement would make.
In March this year, it is believed that nearly one million school children followed her lead, and they too went on strike. Many of these kids live by their principles, buying second hand clothing, eating only vegan or travelling by bike or on foot, instead of by car. Many are also considering science based careers that could help reverse some of the damage already done to the planet.
Two young men who are trying to make a significant impact in order to tackle climate change are Trinity graduates, Hugh Weldon and Ahmad Mu’azzam.
Both studied mechanical and manufacturing engineering in college, and instead of heading straight into the jobs market upon completion, they decided to start their own business, Evocco, an app that helps people track their food intake and its impact on the environment.
Mu’azzam explains how Evocco came about.
“Evocco was born around a dinner table, arguing about what the most effective ways to tackle climate change are. We came to the realisation that although a lot of work was being put into innovations such as electric vehicles and renewable energies, not a lot of companies were tackling the behavioural change issue, which we felt was the biggest blocker when it came to large scale climate action. People felt overwhelmed but willing to act, they just didn’t know how and didn’t have the tools to help them. So in its infancy we established our first theory of change, that if we could not only help people understand the impact of everyday actions but also provide them with the tools to improve and track this improvement, we could create widespread behavioural change. We decided to focus on food as it accounts for 26% of anthropogenic emissions, so we could make a large impact. It was also an equaliser as everybody eats but not everybody could buy an electric car. Most importantly we interact with food multiple times a day so it was the perfect starting point for behaviour change,” he says.
Both men had an interest in STEM from an early age and both studied Hons or Applied Maths, Chemistry and Physics in secondary school. Weldon also studied art and design, which he says “now comes in handy for product design.” They then went into the same course in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in Trinity, where their interests merged.
Weldon explains why he wanted to put his degree to good use in tackling climate change.
“In 2015, when the Paris Climate agreement was signed, that was a wake- up call. I was on Erasmus in France and realised there was a huge technical challenge that needed to be addressed in this area, so I thought it would be more meaningful to apply my skills there. During the final year of my masters I focussed on renewable energies and energy policy and I slowly came around to the point of view that as well as dealing with the technical solutions, it also comes down to creating market demand for change, so then I really got into the behaviour piece, trying to engage with consumers on climate change by the food they purchase.”
Both say they take inspiration from different quarters and this has helped in the build of their own business.
“Norman Crowley, the CEO of Crowley Carbon, is a real champion for sustainability in Ireland. He has created numerous ventures trying to tackle the issue of Climate Challenge, all practical and extremely impactful. His latest endeavour focuses on converting classic cars into electrical vehicles and he is the first person in over 50 years to produce cars on scale in Ireland,” Mu’azzam says.
Weldon, who was previously awarded a UN prize called ‘Young Champion of the Earth’ says he has been lucky enough to meet many impressive young people working on climate change and environmental solutions through that UN connection.
“I met someone who is about to open a land based coral farm in the Bahamas, where you can grow coral inland and stretch them out to the ocean, increasing ocean temperature and by planting them back in coral reefs as more resilient corals. That’s really inspiring. I also met a guy in India who is capturing air pollution from diesel generators and turning it into ink and using it to print t-shirts. There are so many young people leading impressive projects and solutions to climate change,” he says.
While many young people are leading the charge on this issue, there should not be a divide between young and old, Weldon says.
“I definitely don’t think we have space to let a gap like that develop. To achieve a more sustainable future it’s going to take everybody from every generation and all levels of society working towards this to make it happen. However I do feel we need more young people to move into STEM. In my engineering class, a good chunk would have gone to do graduate programmes with accountancy firms or management consultancy firms. We’re losing a lot of talent and work needs to be done on that end of things,” he says.
In fact, this is one career path where the feel good factor is pretty high and he would encourage more young people to consider it.
“Being able to wake up every day and know that we are actively trying to contribute to a better world is what keeps us going when times get tough,” Mu’azzam adds.
Of the marches that have taken place, Weldon says he feels much more hopeful than he had done previously, knowing that kids around the world are so interested in changing the future for the better.
In relation to Greta Thunberg, he says, “There may have been a backlash, which is very unfortunate but she’s not afraid to say the emperor has no clothes. I respect and admire her for her straight talking and what she is saying is all evidence based. People say she’s framing the problem in an uninspiring way, but for decades we’ve been trying to frame the problem so that it engages people and at this stage there is a space for straight talking,” he says.
Both say they have received lots of support around their own start-up and would encourage other young people to consider doing the same. “When you work on something you’re passionate about and you’re making the world a better place, there can be no more an exciting career than that,“ Weldon says.