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

In my experience, young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow; they are the passionate leaders of today.

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

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.

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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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