The Kids Are Alright: What's Missing In The COVID-19/Youth Narrative

In the rush to vilify 'irresponsible' young people, we too often overlook the efforts they're making every day to help us through the pandemic and make the world a better place.

Members of the Young People Against Corona campaign in Tripoli, Libya
Members of the Young People Against Corona campaign in Tripoli, Libya
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

The headline is being repeated around the world: Young people are disregarding social distancing guidelines and sparking a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

The narrative fits within stereotypes that seem to come around with each new generation: Self-centered youth have little regard for the well-being of others and, despite the real risk, believe themselves immune to disease and other mortal threats. But while some Millennials are seeking solace in large-scale gatherings (from a birthday party in Melbourne to a rave in central France and karaoke bars in Japan), many others are using their privilege to aid in the crisis response.

Young people are serving as vaccine testers. They're working essential jobs. Many have gotten involved in volunteer work. If they are in otherwise good health, these teenagers and 20-somethings are less susceptible to severe forms of coronavirus, and this protected status has a tangible benefit to others.

Human challenge trials have been proposed as a way to fast-track a coronavirus vaccine, but to be done ethically, this unconventional approach requires healthy, young participants. The advocacy group 1 Day Sooner has signed up over 32,600 challenge trial volunteers from 140 countries. Co-founder Sophie Rose — age 22 — had been conducting cancer research at the University of Oxford when the pandemic hit.

Many are using their privilege to aid in the crisis response.

"If the last six months have taught us nothing else, the progression of this entire thing has been fairly uncertain," she told the journal Science. "There is a world in which we have a vaccine by then and that would be great, but there's also a world in which we don't. I know I would much rather live in a world where we were ready to implement a human challenge study."

Younger people are also uniquely adaptable to transitioning their efforts to give back online and garner support virtually. Mutual aid networks have popped up in places ranging from Germany to the UK to around the United States. This concept is not new: The term "mutual aid" dates back to 19th- and 20th-century Russian philosopher Peter Kropotki. But now, young community members are organizing through Google spreadsheets, providing financial support to the most vulnerable as well as help with food and medical deliveries and other services.

Young pro-democracy protesters at a Harry Potter-themed demonstration in Bangkok on Aug. 3 — Photo: Andre Malerba/ZUMA

"There are safeguarding concerns, and that is why we are encouraging people to keep it as local as possible," 23-year-old Seren John-Wood, who helped establish a mutual aid project in Lewisham, told the British daily The Guardian. "The solidarity that has emerged from this is incredible. We are hoping this will forge long-lasting connections."

Younger people have also been at the forefront of recent protest movements, demanding a global reckoning on racism and holding elected leaders accountable in their handling of the COVID-19 crisis. In Thailand, youth recently dressed up as Harry Potter characters at demonstrations against King Rama X, who spent quarantine at a hotel in Europe. Marching at universities and town halls, they called for increased freedoms and an overhaul of the Thai constitution.

After Tuesday's catastrophic explosion, it was Beirut's young population who became first responders.

In Lebanon, anti-government protests that began in 2019 were revitalized earlier this summer, largely by young people and students who have been hit hard by the country's economic crisis. As one young protestor told L'Orient-Le Jour, "I demand the fall of this rotten power. We have no jobs, no roads, no water, no electricity. What more do you want?"

And after Tuesday's catastrophic explosion, it was Beirut's young population who became first responders, going from relaxing in bars and restaurants (it was the first day they were allowed to be open after quarantine) to cleaning up the streets, repairing structural damage and helping the wounded.

The deadly blast was a crushing blow to a country already deep in crisis. But it also showed the ability of young activists to put their words into action, proving that when long-held institutions of power fail, those wanting a better world for future generations are prepared to step in.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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