Disparaging the upcoming ‘generation’ is a favorite human pastime. The internet is currently riddled with articles about millennials being the worst generation of humans to-date. To be fair, there are also quite a few thought pieces retorting that these denunciatory articles are just bad journalism. (Too lazy to write a meaningful article about pressing world problems? Consider kicking millennials while they’re down!)
Obvi, the idea of ‘generations’ is a social construct, (meaning- ‘generations’ as we know them don’t exist). The Lost, Interbellum, Greatest, Silent, Boomer, X, Millennial, Z- these are all self-imposed categories with hazy border years. These words really only bear the meaning we attribute to them.
It’s funny to me that millennials are considered to be the worst-generation-yet by an incredibly vocal minority of non-millennials. For the purposes of this article I’m taking into consideration that a vast majority of non-millennials have no interest in the castigation of our youth, nor do I mean to divide the Environmental Rights Movement along lines of age. Yet even so, since y’all “went there,” I’d like to set the record straight for all of us.
With age comes privilege, and I’m about to check yours.
Let’s do a little roll-call, shall we?
Where recent ‘generations’ have gotten us:
…just to name a few wonderful facets of the world millennials might some day inherit. (I say ‘might’ because we millennials can’t assume that the planet will be livable into our late adulthood, a luxury that was bestowed upon previous generations).
Such little hope remains of a stable future on planet Earth that many people today are now suffering from climate depression. Unjustly, many of the people being most affected by climate change cannot afford to share in this privilege of despair.
In the collapse of previous empires, everyday people would shrug and return to the fields for subsistence agriculture or to the ecosystem for foraging- waiting for society to rebuild itself. I ask, in the event of a societal breakdown, where will the billions of people go this time around?
With the vast amount of land turned into concrete, asphalt, or toxic wasteland- there is no longer a natural survival safety net as there used to be. Dangerous toxins in the environment today (landfills, tailing ponds, nuclear power plants, open-pit mines, etc.) are currently maintained and “mitigated” with energy from fossil fuels. In the collapse of our national energy infrastructure due to rolling blackouts, hurricanes, economic collapse, wildfires, etc.- these places will all be at risk of additional fallout and thus furthermore threaten the contamination of entire bio-regions with life-threatening materials.
Moreover, most people alive today don’t even have the beginning of an understanding of traditional wisdoms for basic survival. Never in history has there ever been such a large majority of human society which has been so completely divorced from the concept of what it means to be a human on this planet. Fossil fuels have allowed us to soar well beyond our means and to sweep our destruction under a metaphorical rug, but that bubble is about to pop.
So, why might millennials be our only hope (if we really do have one)?
We millennials are not a special group of humans. We just happen to have been born to a time when humanity needed saving from itself. We have been given two pathways to choose between: one that leads to extinction, and the other that leads to the preservation of our society. Millennials are our only hope- by complete chance. If we can’t save society, then no one will. The good news is that with every passing day we millennials are inheriting decision-making seats of power to create real change for our communities.
Millennials understand that joining the resistance against unsustainable lifestyles of radical consumption, overthrowing corporate oligarchy, blockading any new nonrenewable energy projects, dismantling neo-liberal trade deals, fighting to achieve the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights... these are not idealistic pursuits for us, as was the case for past generations. For millennials, these are imperative acts of self-preservation.
To the Millennials reading this: how many of you have heard a non-millennial say the phrase, “I don’t have to worry about ___insert impending climate catastrophe here___, because it won’t happen in my lifetime.”
To any non-millennial reading this, please know that if we hear you say a phrase like that- we are judging you. To state that climate change is a “millennial problem” makes you sound inconsiderate and ignorant.
To a certain extent- it makes sense that some non-millennials feel this way. For the most part, our society does have a few years left of this gravy train. Depending upon how old you are, you might not have to live a majority of your existence in a time of devastating instability.
won’t might not have to watch your homes be destroyed by floods, you won’t might not have to house and feed climate refugees from coastal states, you won’t might not have to suffer from food shortages, you won’t might not have to drink rainwater out of tarps, etc. But most scientists (and the Pentagon) are saying that actually, you probably will.
Millennials will be defined by history for our response to climate change. I would posit that we might some day even be remembered as the Greatest Generation humanity has ever known. We will be the generation that suffers state violence in order to turn society away from a lifestyle of radical consumption, war profiteering, and national exceptionalism. We will be the generation that restores ourselves to community living and re-invests in shared land ownership. We will throw out the corporate elite and restore legitimate elections to the United States. We will incentivize family-planning in order to stabilize our water and food resources. We will invest in a clean energy future. We will seek out indigenous wisdoms for pro-environment lifestyles.
We will, we must preserve society so that the unborn generations to come can taste the sweetness of Justice and Liberty in a stabilized world, and not be left to bandy scrabbling wars over tracts of dwindling clean water and un-poisoned soil.
For all my frustrated millennials out there, I will leave you with a meditation that helps me to sleep at night.
Although currently trapped by unprecedented predatory student loans, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although indentured into full-time labor with no wages, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although denied bike lanes and high speed rail from our politicians, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although denied the right to grow food on our own properties, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although held captive by the privatized prison industry for corporate profit, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although we are gifted a catastrophic state of foreign policy from our elders, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although our activism is considered terrorism, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although disenfranchised at the voting booth, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
Although fossil fuel companies block meaningful investment into climate adaptation, our voting bloc is only set to grow.
We are humanity’s only hope because the people who made our world a place of injustice and ecological calamity are losing their power and authority day-by-day.