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Note from a non-apathetic millennial: Climate change is not hopeless

Courtesy of the Will Steger Foundation
Students meeting with Gov. Dayton last week about clean energy.

Millennials are lazy; environmentalism is only gloom and doom. These two common misperceptions get under my skin more than most. The millennials I know are social-change activists, and environmentalism is how they’re working toward securing a better future for all.

When I tell people that I work with high-school youth on climate-change solutions I am often met with skepticism. Responses range from “well that’s a big job for young people” to stories along the lines of “kids these days” or “when I was your age.” Very quickly, assumptions are made about the lack of vision, drive or hard work that young people are willing to put in. Many assume that these youth are filled with pie-in-the-sky ideas that are not possible.

In my experience, young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow; they are the passionate leaders of today. On Feb. 2, I had the privilege of being in the room when 150 high-school and college-age students met with Gov. Mark Dayton about Minnesota’s energy future and efforts to address climate change.

Offering workable solutions

Not only was this a room full of young people taking action on something they care about, the meeting was full of students offering workable solutions to climate change. Today, 15 percent of Minnesota’s energy comes from renewable sources, a fact we can attribute to the hard work of individuals in the private and public sector and a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) of 25 percent by 2025. At the Clean Energy & Jobs lobby day last week, these 150+ students, along with other concerned community members, advocated for increasing our RES to 40 percent by 2030. As far as youth are concerned, more renewable energy not only helps lower our carbon emissions, it creates the jobs and resources that will shape the state in which many of them will live and work someday.

Natalie Cook
Courtesy of Natalie Cook
Natalie Cook

This example of passionate and articulate young people advancing positive policy change and solutions to climate change flies in the face of naysayers. The youth I saw in the room with Gov. Dayton on Feb. 2 are creating the solutions that will move our state to where we believe it should be. Not only are they lobbying the governor and their local lawmakers for a clean energy future, but they are also creating solutions on their campuses and in their communities.  For instance, they are composting the paper towels in bathrooms, reducing single use water bottles, and sourcing alternative energy in their school buildings.

A challenge

So I challenge you, if you are one of those people who find themselves bemoaning the state of our world and the next generation that will lead it: Don’t. Go out and find a solution that you believe in, whether it’s making your home more energy efficient, supporting local farmers, or getting involved in a community organization and organizing toward policy changes.

Climate-change solutions are going to require all of us, young and old, and there are real actions we can all take that will make a difference. Choose action, not apathy.

Natalie Cook is the coordinator of the high-school program YEA! MN at the Will Steger Foundation

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Richard Adair on 02/14/2015 - 11:12 am.

    From a 72 year old

    Nice post, Natalie. Those of us who came of age in the 1960s working on these issues welcome our young, energetic, smart, and sophisticated allies.

    I like how you skewer stereotypes of young people as self-absorbed, cynical, and lazy. Disrespectful and, more importantly, inaccurate!

    I’ve just finished reading “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in climate change. Like you, she offers hope.

  2. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 02/14/2015 - 03:54 pm.

    We all need articles like this.

    I absolutely support environmental journalism, but I am a human being, and too much bad news depresses me. Like many others, I may find it that an overdose of bad news lames and numbs me rather than inspires me to action.

    The realistic attitude to take is always the attitude that Natalie Cook exhorts us to take: the will to action.

    I once heard a fable of three fishermen in a boat. One of them discovered a leak and panicked, saying, “We’re all going to drown!” The second fisherman refused to look up from his fishing line, saying, “Don’t mind that leak; it’s too small to bother with.” The third fisherman looked carefully at the leak and the water flowing in. Without saying anything, he picked up a bucket and bailed out the boat. Thanks to him, the boat remained afloat until all three fishermen had returned to shore safely.

    There is a realist position that occupies the midpoint between irrational optimism and irrational pessimism, or if you will, between denial and despair, respectively. And the realist position is always an activist position.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 02/18/2015 - 11:49 am.

      This fable …

      This fable is actually a parable which illustrates problem solving which does not seek the root cause of the problem. The water in the boat is a symptom, an opening in the hull is the root cause of the problem.

      Plugging the inlet before bailing would prevent more watering from entering the boat. Bailing only addresses the symptom of the problem, water in the boat. Once the flow of water from outside to inside is stopped or slowed, then bailing is indicated to address the water symptom.

  3. Submitted by Steve Rose on 02/18/2015 - 01:26 pm.

    This fable …

    This fable is actually a parable which brilliantly illustrates problem solving which does not seek the root cause of the problem. The water in the boat is a symptom, an opening in the hull is the root cause of the problem.

    Plugging the inlet before bailing would prevent more watering from entering the boat. Bailing only addresses the symptom of the problem, water in the boat. Once the flow of water from outside to inside is stopped or slowed, then bailing is indicated to address the water symptom of the boat hull problem.

    The moral of the bailer story is that you can spend your life working on a problem without ever understanding the problem or its root cause.

    The Earth’s climate complexities are manifold and poorly understood. If only we had an instrument that divined what climate change is due to nature and what is caused by man. We do know from the fossil record and from glacier ice cores that the Earth’s climate has always been in flux, never in a steady state, and in far former times as warm or warmer than today. But, we do have computer models. Unfortunately all of the computer models that cover the last forty years have over-predicted warming by 3X.

  4. Submitted by Peter Gilbert on 05/25/2015 - 10:16 am.

    where do they get their information

    Hello,

    First off, wonderful job Ms. Cook. Very well written, insightful and positive.

    In response to Steve Rose, our insane carbon dioxide contributions to climate change are not poorly understood. They are off the chart. Yes our climate has always been in a state of flux. There are natural fluctuations and there have been abrupt changes due to extreme events. Our excessive consumption of renewable and non renewable resources is an un natural extreme event. Every reputable and unbiased source of information agrees that our children’s future is grim in our current high emissions scenario. Even a low emissions scenario from here on in would be unmanageable. Anyone who suggests there are natural contribution and fluctuations that factor into our current situation is blinded by money or success. Human nature is the only problem.

    “all” computer models Mr. Rose says? I have seen none from my sources.

    All climate forecast information represented here is taken from government agencies including the EPA, NASA, Government of New Brunswick, Government of Canada and the AAAS(largest scientific organization in the world).
    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/future.html
    http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/
    http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/env/pdf/Climate-Climatiques/ClimateChangeActionPlan2014-2020.pdf
    http://www.ec.gc.ca/ccmac-CCCma/default.asp?lang=En&n=540909E4-1
    http://whatweknow.aaas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/whatweknow_website.pdf

    Peter Gilbert
    Smithfield, NB, Canada
    http://www.tragedyofthecommons.ca
    http://www.dearbriangallant.ca

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