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Living

Millennials: The Planet's Doom or Salvation?

The social media generation has innovated but is yet to revolutionize the world

Kayaktivists from the sHellNo! Action Council greeted Shell's Arctic Destroyer in the Port Angeles, April 17, 2015, photo: Flickr
2 months ago

Millennials, a word uttered with hope by the younger generations and a certain disgust by older generations. The social media generation that has broken the mold of business and  revolutionized industries with just a computer and is also the generation that is facing the biggest environmental problems of any previous generation.

The recent U.S. election, Brexit and other far-right political movements across the globe offered a glimpse into many of the current social dynamics that are currently taking place.

The problem that we face today is that the younger generations have deemed politics, environmental and social issues as subjects that are best suited for older generations. It is not that millennials are not aware of politics, but rather that the majority has chosen the path of apps, social media and the pursuit of lifestyle.

It’s no surprise that the three main political figures of the last U.S. election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, were all over 60, when after Barack Obama’s term it wouldn’t have been that far fetched to expect a young candidate to lead the race in either party. Instead, the empire (the old one) struck back.

The older generations, who own most of the wealth and control most of the dynamics in the world, have realized that we are very easily influenced by what we see on social media and that we have become distracted distracted by everything else; hence the current global situation where global warming and climate change have become a “theory” for some, globalism is perceived as a threat, liberal ideas are perceived as eternal damnation by conservatives and the same can be said of conservative ideas by liberals.

Our lives are made easier by pretending that we are not under a threat, but the truth is that we are being targeted from every direction. In the age of information, our generation is at risk of becoming the most uninformed generation in history, comparing the amount of information resources available to what we have done so far.

There was a time when citizens were extremely informed about the actions of their governments and problems around the world, then along came marketing and advertising followed by a million distractions and now citizens have to purposely inform themselves and keep up with information.

“Around the world, millennials are seeing the impacts the climate change are having on their communities”, says Thanu Yakupitiyage, U.S. director of communications for environmental organization 350, that advocates for clean energy through online campaigns, grassroots movements and public actions.

“In the Pacific Islands, the sea waters are rising. In parts of Africa, drought is worsening. Millennials need to be empowered to take action, to call for accountability from their governments and to protect their future, and that’s why organizations like 350 exist, to manifest this hunger for action”, said Yakupitiyage.

Our world is rapidly changing, and this is happening at the same time that everybody wants a piece of the pie, when every young person has Mark Zuckerberg as a standard against to which they measure their dreams and their reality.

Social media is great, but it wasn’t until recently that Zuckerberg decided to give Facebook a social agenda “to build communities”, if that is indeed it’s true purpose. Social media has been around for a little over a decade now, and we are just now tapping into its potential as an information tool.

The truth this that until this point social media has served vanity and ego while giving the illusion of action.

Action is what the millennial generation needs to bring to the table in order to tackle climate change, because “social media backlash” is not the answer, now more than ever, actions need to be smarter and more calculated than those of past generations.

The Sierra Club is an environmental organization that has helped pass legislation in the U.S. such as the Clean Water Act. Karissa Gerhke, director of the Sierra Club’s Student Coalition offers her views on millennials and the fight against climate change.

“Despite the tropes about lazy millennial attitudes, we’ve seen this generation show up in large numbers, from the streets to local statehouses to social media, to share information and fight back against harmful policies that threaten climate action. In fact, 91% of millennials support transitioning America to a 100% clean energy economy,” said Gerhke.

Gerhke is correct, our generation is overflowing with support for the right causes, but support is just the first step and sometimes we get stuck in that first step.

As a generation, millennials have become accustomed to acknowledging most of the problems of the planet and still carrying on with life as usual, and there seems to be a clear reason for this: as long as ethical choices are left in the hands of the average person, progress is unlikely, and this has nothing to do with laziness or lack of interest but rather with tradition, as we have all seen older generations use and abuse resources, so it’s hard to understand why we can’t carry on like they did.

It’s true that millennials are present on social media, but there is still a clear lack of transition from social media to concrete actions, as much as it affects the views of many activists and social movements around the world, a new generation should offer new ways to protest, new attitudes, and more important than anything, the creation of new business models that serve the environment instead of abusing it.

A company that is doing just that is startup Copia, founded by 27 year old Komal Ahmad. This company is helping to solve hunger, the “dumbest world problem,” as Ahmad calls it. Copia turns food waste into a profitable business, by providing transport and distribution of leftover food to local shelters and charities through its app, while at the same time helping businesses reduce their waste.

Ahmad knew that she wanted to help solve hunger in the world, a thing which she could have easily decided to tackle by protesting or creating a social media community and writing letters to her congressman. Instead, she turned a student organization into a business. A business that solves a problem while turning profits and a company that has an endless potential for growth.

Another example is an organization named The Plastic Bank, founded by David Katz and Shaun Frankson. This organization is helping to collect plastic before it gets to the ocean as trash, by providing communities with the exchange of plastic for goods or money. The founders also promote the use of “social plastic,” collected by communities and recycled by the Plastic Bank, another win-win profitable solution for a world problem.

This is the path that the millennial generation needs to walk on, because in the modern world, everything is interconnected, governments, companies, ecosystems and societies, are all subject to the global economy, decisions taken in boardrooms and senate chambers will affect the course of the environment in the future.

Activism and protests are a useful tool and not one that should be dismissed or taken for granted, but they also turn off a lot of people looking to help due to the methods sometimes used and the search for attention by some activists. The time is running out and as long as business models remain at war with environmental and social solutions, the likelihood is that progress will be very slow.

Charities and NGOs can’t be taken for granted, especially in modern times where capitalist interests and greed run amok, but its also this idea of world problems as “charity” that has led us to accept them as a constant in our world and something permanent, whereas a company like Copia and an organization like the Plastic Bank so them as business opportunities.

The power of the millennial generation lies in the ability to upset current business models, whether with technology, ideas or both, but as long as our innovations are used to create interactive video apps instead of challenging current companies, those abilities won’t make a difference.

It’s the reason why millennials are yet to be taken seriously, because there is a lack of a push back against the current ways in which corporations do business, yes there are hundreds of polls, petitions and demonstrations, but with the tools at our disposal we have the ability to exchange information and educate people from across the globe, and yet none of this is taking place in any significant volume.

When asked about the role that information plays in educating millennials about climate change, Yakupitiyage  says that there is more awareness thanks to the current political climate.

“In the first three months of the Trump Administration, we saw millions of people on the streets. From the 2 million people who marched at the Women’s March, to the tens of thousands who stood up for immigrants at airports around the country, to the 200,000+ people who marched in Washington D.C for action against the climate crisis at the Peoples Climate March. Our challenge now is to manifest this desire to act into long term action to keep our leaders accountable,” said Yakupitiyage.

It must be said that there’s a sector of the millennial generation and younger generations that are extremely involved in the fight against climate change, but the mistake is often made of generalizing based on the actions of a few.

It’s possible to say that it wasn’t millennials but rather baby boomers that put Trump in the White House, but it’s millennial’s fault because while some are out there protesting and generating social media discussions, baby boomers went out and voted.

If a photograph is word a thousand words, an action is worth more than all the online discussions.

Evolution shouldn’t only be physiological or mental, evolution should bring a change into our society and the millennial generation has to evolve in order to understand that many of the educational, political and social systems are outdated, as a generation millennials are already modernizing many industries but that won’t have any effect until those efforts are redirected towards solving actual problems.

We have put too much faith in technology and the world has come to understand evolution only in regards to the technological developments rather than the advancement of the human potential and this is where the core problem of climate change, global warming and lack of resources lies: we keep waiting on technology to solve our problems.

The current system turns the consumer into a last resource, because consumers have to learn how everything they’re buying is made, what it contains, how sustainable it is, how ethical, etc… Previous generation weren’t subject to this, the companies they built fitted their lifestyle but they no longer fit modern times.

The ultimate test for millennials will be the consolidation of a profitable business model that benefits the environment, alongside the renovation of capitalism to stop the current trend of economical unbalances in societies all across the world.

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