By Elizabeth Courtney
I’ve recently had the opportunity to work on climate change issues with several Vermont communities and a class of Middlebury College seniors, majoring in environmental studies. They have since graduated and are now entering the job market with the rest of their generation, known as the Millennials. Those of us who are over 65 and even as young as 40-something typically regard this generation with distain for their presumed self-fascination and sense of entitlement. But I found those characteristics to be atypical of these 60 seniors and others I know.
My experience with this cohort is more closely aligned with that of authors William Strauss and Neil Howe—who wrote about the Millennials in Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 and Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. They describe four basic generational archetypes, repeating in a cycle—Hero, Artist, Prophet and Nomad. They predict Millennials will become more like the "civic-minded" G.I. generation—the WWI heroes, the Greatest Generation—with a strong sense of community both local and global.
The “heroes” of the new millennium must clearly grasp the urgency of the climate crisis and be ready to take important steps to address it. It soon will be their historical fate to be in the driver’s seat at a time when good intentions are not enough. The Millennials will have a much higher bar to clear, because the generations who came before them, the Boomers and the GenXers—that would be us—did not act boldly enough,
As Mark Hertsgaard reports in the June 2nd Harpers, the science they are faced with — such as the latest declarations by the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that two thirds of earth’s remaining fossil fuel must be left underground if we are to limit temperature rise to 2°C —“demands action that seems preposterous to the political and economic status quo”.
Perhaps all this places an unfair burden on the Millennials. But, as Hertsgaard continues, “science does not care about fair, and leaders inherit the history they inherit. What matters is what they, and the rest of us, make of it”.
If the politics at the federal and state levels continues to be gridlocked, the avenues for transitioning into a post climate crisis era will be through local community efforts such as those we engaged with the Middlebury students. Here are a few of their thoughts, demonstrating that these Millennials are on the right track:
This course was a really valuable foray into what it will mean for me to… begin addressing climate change as part of a community and not just as an individual. It allowed me… an introduction to how huge the coming challenges are, what is already happening and what still needs to happen. – Molly Rose-Williams, partnering with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (VANR)
Oftentimes it is easy to get overwhelmed, but, if we don’t capitalize on the growing momentum of environmental action, we will be in trouble. – Danielle Hirschberg, partnering with the Vermont Council on Rural Development, (VCRD)
I hadn’t realized how much potential power the religious community could bring the environmental movement. I think this course opened my eyes to the fact that the issue of climate change is huge and daunting, but it can be addressed. – Mollie Young, partnering with Vermont Interfaith Power and Light (VTIP&L)
To truly understand a community, we must proceed without judgment and preconceived notions, or we will find exactly what we expected to find. –Hannah Bristol, partnering with the City of Rutland
If we can effectively educate 20 people on the benefits of sustainable transportation and provide them with reasonable options for their commute, we will have begun the process of creating a social norm. - Eleni Polychroniadou, partnering with Marble Valley Regional Transit District
The road to a sustainable transportation system stretches before us. It’s time to start the drive. - Carey Favaloro partnering with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission
The Millennials, you’ve gotta love ‘em for the heroes they will become.
Environmental advocate, Elizabeth Courtney is the co-author of “Greening Vermont: The Search for a Sustainable State,” and a Class of 1995 Loeb Fellow from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.