The Green Generation
Social Climate Change
There has been one constant, as far back as we can understand: The world is always changing. Changing its surface, weather, people and values. It happens over massive periods of time, and it happens in the course of a generation, simultaneously, everywhere. It's hard not to assign blame for those shifts, especially if some changes aren't survivable for humans.
Most of the world, including a privileged portion of the United States, is now aware of global warming. Many populations in our country are already experiencing its effects. Today's generation of 16- to 35-year-olds experiences the climate crisis in a number of ways.
This is the generation that will uncover the answers to our biggest questions: How will we all survive the peak of our resources? Will everyone make it? How does a planet move from consumption to sustainability? Will we make the connection between global warming and economic disparity on a large enough scale? So far, the only thing incremental about climate change is our American response to it.
By necessity, this is the generation that will produce businesspeople who recognize the longevity of their success as tied to green and socially just entrepreneurial endeavors. This generation will produce funders who strategically resource local work with an eye toward sustaining a whole system of strong communities, academics who research policy that values sustainability and justice, scientists and engineers who develop new green technologies that employ community members. This generation is teeming with activists and organizers who will make the big visionary connection and take the drastic strategic actions on behalf of our survival.
Some youth experience it directly -- in the arctic and the Gulf Coast, youth have seen drastic changes in their land, homes, infrastructure, weather. In urban industrial and post-industrial areas like Detroit, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh, youth experience the physical buildup of pollution in their bodies. Some experience it less directly -- targeted heavily by military recruiters desperate to beef up forces for wars to secure our prolonged reliance on outdated resources.
I wanted to know what young people think about global warming. We are in a unique position as the first generation to have such complete access to information and to communications from all over the world, with such specific knowledge about huge changes happening around us. Who is aware of that bigger picture? Who is already doing work around it?
I spoke to a wide variety of young people -- youth in every city I traveled to this summer, youth who identify as Christian, Muslim and atheist. Youth from public schools and private schools, youth who were home-schooled, youth I surveyed on MySpace and FaceBook, youth from the Gulf Coast and the arctic, youth who consider themselves environmentalists and youth who don't.
Wiretap: Here, in their own words, the Green Generation.
I could go on forever about what I would do to stop global warming. --Leah
Wiretap: What is global warming?
Earth temperatures consistently rising faster than any natural cycle due to human pollution. --Wini (16, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The earth is getting hotter (e.g., average temperatures are rising around the world, and there is a subsequent shift in worldwide weather patterns) because of all the shit we -- humans -- put into the atmosphere. --Leah (25, Texas)
Can't explain it ... the rain forest cutting down has a lot to do with it, changing the weather and taking away natural medications. --Edy (16, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Uh ... human activity fucking (can I say that?) with the atmosphere and environment and causing a very small but detrimental increase in the earth's temperature. --Erin (23, Northwest Territories, Canada)
A phenomenon where green house gases emitted from car exhaust, coal furnaces and other pollutants build up in the atmosphere and create more cloud cover and a denser atmosphere where light and heat from the sun bounces back and forth between the earth and the ozone instead of escaping. The buildup of light and heat cause the temperatures within the atmosphere to increase over time, which can cause polar ice cap melting, glacial melts, El Nino/La Nina phenomenon, erratic weather patterns, etc. --Lisa (16, Selma, Ala.)
Something when the ice melts and overflows the world, and it could kill us! --Darnell (16)
Global warming ... a relatively abrupt increase in the average temperature of the globe. The current widely excepted theory is that this is the result of an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human and natural sources. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and CFCs (which can have 100 times the effect of CO2) absorb light from the sun and convert this energy into vibrations and collisions observed as heat. In an excess of normal levels of these greenhouse gases, more light energy is converted to heat energy, leading to an increase in the average global temperature. --Dave
To me, global warming is mankind destroying Mother Earth. Everything that was created by mankind to make life easier is only making it harder on Mother Earth. In turn, we are getting what is called global warming, which is the earth's refrigerator shutting down and the world pretty much collapsing. -- Kyla (21, Northwest Territories, Canada)
Wiretap: How did you learn about global warming?
I have learned about this in high school, college and graduate school as well as through lectures and the media. --Dave
Elementary school in the '80s. Was I the only one? --Wini (16, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
On Oprah Al Gore was talking about it yesterday. --Pam (16, Selma, Ala.)
Didn't learn about it! -- Arthur (19, Selma, Ala.)
Wiretap: Do you think we will see the effects of global warming in your lifetime?
We have been seeing the effects of global warming already. Take a look at old and new pictures of ancient glaciers to see the stark difference. Look at weather phenomena like Hurricane Katrina and Rita. The bees are disappearing, which some people think could be the canary in the coal mine. Polar bears are dying because their icebergs melt beneath their feet. Wine country in Napa Valley, Calif., and Bordeaux, France, is drying up and more northern wine crops are yielding better. Global warming has been happening since the Industrial Revolution. --Lisa
I think we're seeing them already! --Casey (16, North Augusta, S.C.)
Yes. I want to write the book 100 Places To Go Before They Die. Just go to Yosemite, turn on the Weather Channel, visit the Canadian ice fields or walk outside to see the effects. --Lauren (16, Selma, Ala.)
I believe we are going to experience catastrophic effects of global warming in my lifetime. These may include mass species extinction, habitat destruction, rising sea levels, and astonishing (and dangerous) shifts in global weather patterns. --Leah
I am seeing it today. Living in the north, global warming is all around me. The banks are eroding, the water is rising, the winters are shorter and summers longer. The animals are adapting to this situation, which means that we are seeing animals in our areas that don't belong (salmon in the Mackenzie delta; seals, otters in the Mackenzie islands; polar and grizzly bears, and so on). --Kyla
Wiretap: Is your generation doing enough?
I think people my age have little hope that we can do anything as individuals to really effect change. There are people who are wildly inspired and do everything they can to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Then there are people in the middle, like me. And then there are people who are clueless. I think most people are clueless. --Wini
There is not much you do on a personal level. --Edy
No not yet. We are reactionary and will try to make bigger changes probably way too late. --Molasses
Most people do not do anything to stop global warming. People don't even recycle when the bins are right next to the trash. People do not choose cars for their fuel efficiency. People do not work so they can change the world -- most people I've met work so they can make money and buy a new car or a new TV. It is not a popular position to be an idealist, and most people, regardless of their age, think only about their own happiness today. --Lisa
People my age are not doing enough, because enough would mean putting enough pressure on the older status quo generation running the mechanisms of power, so that we could see sound environmental policies trump corporatism. --Gregory (32, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Everyone feels like their own action isn't going to be enough to prevent it anyway, so why try -- but of course, if everyone did change, it may just be enough. But people in their 20s seem to be very focused on themselves and their careers and maybe slightly less so on world issues ... --Erin
Unless you work for a global warming prevention initiative, ride a bike everywhere, farm all your own food, and live in a teepee with a lamp that runs on wind power, you are probably not doing enough. I actually feel so strongly about the coming changes in our world that I have completely switched careers so that I am armed to meet these changes with hard skills rather than just the ability to talk and write about policy. (I do think those skills are also, of course, extremely important, but when the shit hits the fan, I want to really be able to help!) That is just one of many reasons I have switched careers and am now working toward becoming a doctor. --Leah
No. However, I don't think that any age group is doing enough to stop global warming. --Alex
Wiretap: Even as they are aware that not enough is being done, most of the folks I interviewed are engaged in some actions of their own.
I already have one solar panel. and I plan on covering my south-facing roof with many more. I currently drive a car that gets 37 miles to the gallon. When the technology improves, my next car will likely be electric unless something better comes along in five years. We recycle! We buy the green option from the power company so extra money goes towards renewable energies currently being used to generate electricity. --Lisa
I do try to reduce my carbon footprint by biking instead of driving, eating more locally grown food, etc. --Alex
I am committed to greening the entertainment industry. This is my large-scale move to stop global warming but on a small scale, I walk/bike whenever possible and lead people on hikes to inform them about the effects of global warming and mismanagement of the environment. --Lauren
The Future Is Now
What occurred to me reviewing the answers was that any lack of knowledge, any naivetÃ©, any failures on the part of the public education system, media and parents to inform this generation of its environmental circumstances -- its all temporary. We might be learning slowly, but change is coming fast.
I think it is possible to stop global warming, one person at a time. --Lisa
Or 8,000 people. Or 17,000 people. Or a couple million people. In the course of writing this, I have come across young people at gatherings like Bioneers, Power Shift 2007, and the Brower Youth Awards. In each space there is more action than I've ever seen before by young people from impacted communities who have the privilege of being awake to what's happening and are looking for people to move the front line of their sustainable visions forward against all odds.
Adrienne Maree Brown, 29, is the executive director of The Ruckus Society, which brings nonviolent direct action training to communities impacted by economic, environmental and social oppression. She sits on the board of Allied Media Project and Wiretap Magazine, and facilitates the development of many organizations (most recently ColorofChange.org and Detroit Summer). A co-founder of the League of Young Voters and graduate of the Art of Leadership and Art of Change trainings, Adrienne is obsessed with learning and developing models for action, community strength and movement building.