What Earth Day Means to Millennials
Posted April 22, 2012
Today is Earth Day. And I, by virtue of being a member of the first generation to have grown up with this holiday, am an Earth Day expert. I’ve made more than one paper mache globe in my lifetime to honor this, the high holy day of the environmental movement. I’ve picked up other people’s trash on the beach, in the park, strewn across various other land features. I’ve planted flowers and dug up weeds. Want to know which plastics are recyclable in the New York metropolitan area? Allow me to show you this poster I made in 1996.
But now that we members of the Millennial Generation — born between 1978 and 2000 — are (mostly) all grown up, Earth Day means much more. It’s a reminder that the world may be radically different when we leave it than it was when we entered. That our children and grandchildren may experience childhoods that bear no resemblance to our own. And like social security or Medicare, there’s that lingering fear among us that one day it may not exist at all.
I say “may” because I know — as NRDC knows — that there’s a lot we can do to remediate and even reverse some of the effects of climate change and the damage that we’ve done to our home over the last couple hundred years. And if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of what some of those are. Reduce household consumption. Drive less, walk and bike more. Support sustainable agriculture. Invest in a clean energy future. Increase incentives for green businesses. Enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and hold accountable big polluters who violate them. Stop destructive industrial projects from endangering the few truly wild places left on the planet. Recycle.
Now, I don’t want to speak for my entire generation here. But I feel pretty comfortable speaking for most of us. In a study sponsored by the Earth Day Network of 2,000 individuals between 18 and 29 years old, 76 percent identified America’s dependence on fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas as an issue that is important to shaping this generation, and one that they feel has not been adequately addressed — more than inequality in public education, rising costs of healthcare or lack of job and retirement security.
My generation has been aware of these problems for most of our lives. But we’re also the first generation to grow up knowing that there are solutions — and that it’s up to us to implement them. Seventy-nine percent of respondents in the Earth Day Network study believed that their generation of Americans had better opportunities to make a difference and produce structural change than previous generations. We understand that the environmental movement is no longer a group of well-intentioned people holding hands and planting flowers one day a year. In fact, it’s no longer a movement at all. It’s a way we must live every single day if we’re going to have any future on this Earth.
My advice for Earth Day — enjoy it. Go for a bike ride, walk through the park, tend to your garden (or if you live on the sixth floor of an apartment building like I do, the potted plants on your fire escape). The other 364 days of the year, make the choices in your life that will help create a more sustainable world — and preserve what beauty is left of the one we’ve got.
Celebrate Earth Day by saving an acre of the last undisturbed gray whale nursery in the world in honor of someone you love! Go to www.nrdcgreengifts.org.