In our research it was made that clear that Kuwait’s older generation are more skeptical about the urgency of climate change. A widely shared opinion from this generation is that the country’s current climate has always been this way, and that the extreme heat is to be expected from living in a desert context and that nothing can be done about it. As one interviewee stated, many people they had spoken to believed that the rise in temperature is an act of God, and not something that can be addressed by government and/or society.1 Many interviewees cited a generational divide in relation to the alarm around climate change. Samia Al Duaij explained that in general the older generation (those born before 1970) do not take climate change seriously, with some viewing it as a conspiracy to damage the Gulf economies. Senior government officials have told Al Duaij that major powers want to see Kuwait’s oil “rot in the ground”. She further explained the generational divide by citing a consultation on the Kuwait Masterplan in which everyone over 50 was against introducing a metro because they could not conceive of people wanting to leave their cars. “The younger generation were all for it because cars are highly polluting, and they don’t want to wait in traffic. There was a stark contrast between the two generations,” Al Duaij said.2
The frequency with which our interlocutors in Kuwait mentioned the generational divide led us to organize two youth focus groups (one in English and one in Arabic) with 19 Kuwait based youths to hear from them directly on this topic.3 Several interviewees said that it was mainly the youth, and those who are privately educated in Western schools in Kuwait, that are particularly concerned about climate change and environmental issues more broadly. Therefore, we ensured that the focus groups included youth from both public and private schools. In our youth focus group, there was no recognizable divide in their views about climate change based on where they attended school. But those in public schools stressed the absence of teaching on climate change in their school curriculum. Those in private schools remarked that climate change was part of their curriculum to a certain extent, and that the issue was raised in afterschool clubs and through school events like “Earth Day.”
Across the youth focus groups there was consensus that climate change would negatively impact them to a far greater extent than their elders, and that the older generation did not take the issue as seriously as they did. One participant stated that “the older generation, they think that climate change is either a lie, or not as important as other world problems.” When asked why there was such a generational divergence on the issue of climate change in Kuwait, the participants said that they are experiencing climate change more rapidly than their parents’ generation. They cited extreme weather events but also widespread cases of health issues amongst their peers, such as asthma and other breathing irregularities, which they also linked to the long-term environmental damage caused by Iraqi forces setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells during the Gulf war.
Youth participants in the focus group emphasized their exposure to social media and the fact that mainstream Kuwaiti media ignores climate change. They explained that their use of social media meant they are more aware of global incidents of climate change than the older generation. Participants cited, for instance, their exposure through social media of global climate events, such as the wildfires in Australia, the Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, and several celebrities, as nudging them to engage with climate change. A United Arab Emirates (UAE) online initiative “Connect with Nature” was also cited in the English language focus group by a participant as having introduced them to the topic of climate change and spoke positively about the way it allowed youth to speak with officials on this issue.4
In the Arabic youth focus group, the participants lamented the fact that there was not enough coverage of climate change in mainstream Kuwaiti media and in the Arabic language more broadly, and the absence of climate change in their school curriculums. “Why don’t they care? We are on social media, we are exposed to a lot, and our curriculums don’t help us learn about these issues,” one participant stated. When asked how much of a priority climate change was for them, the youth participants noted that Kuwait faced many challenges. They cited the importance of climate change but also issues such as gender equality, the harassment of women and corruption. Further, they expressed their frustration at being silenced by the older generation and stated that the government only focuses on “the economy” rather than quality of life.