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Millennials and the Climate Change Dilemma

This blog is part of Caffeinated Commentary - a monthly series where the Millennial Fellows create interesting and engaging content around a theme. This month, each fellow has been charged by fellowship director Reid Cramer to explain why anyone, but especially millennials, should care about the specific policy interests they’re passionate about.

Millennials are often bogged down by the inaccurate perceptions of earlier generations. We’ve all heard it before: we’re lazy, vain, entitled, hopeless dreamers, and all too weary of responsibility. And unlike our parents, we don’t own a home or have plans of getting married before the age of 25. What’s more, we eat too much avocado toast, engage in too many boozy brunches, and often justify our wasteful decisions; for instance, foregoing public transportation in favor of Uber.

While it may be true that some millennials indulge in these luxuries from time to time – I confess, one time I spent $45 on an asian-fusion brunch for the bottomless mimosas, not the spicy tuna rolls – these behaviors should not solely define us. In fact, we are a generation of innovators and critical thinkers, tasked with solving complex problems earlier generations have not had to contend with. Central among these problems, is climate change.

Already the effects of climate change are being felt by communities across the globe. Researchers suggest rising ocean temperatures could have exacerbated recent severe weather events – a shift that may continue into future. Last year’s hurricane season in the U.S. was particularly devastating – estimates suggest that hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria caused almost $200 billion in damages. What’s more, Africa’s Sahel Lake Chad Basin region is experiencing food insecurity due to a prolonged period of drought. And in the Middle East, insurgent groups are exploiting severe weather events to recruit populations in urgent need of resources.

What’s even more alarming is the fact that we are likely to face more of these challenges in the coming years. A majority of scientists agree that an increasingly warming climate could raise the global mean sea level by as much as six feet by the year 2100. The impact of this projected rise in sea level will have a disproportionate effect on small island nations. In the Southern Pacific Island region alone, low lying land masses could become uninhabitable within the next 40 years, displacing hundreds of thousands in the process. Some experts have predicted that long term increases in temperature in Sub Saharan Africa could raise conflict over critical resources, like food and water.

The climate related challenges that my generation will face are daunting, and will require immense effort and innovation to mitigate – and I believe that we are equipped to handle it. Indeed, we’re already doing so.

We are actively questioning traditional institutions and power structures that have failed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, we use innovative platforms to mobilize efforts at preserving a liveable climate for future generations. We also use our voices as consumers, choosing to purchase organic products with less of a carbon footprint than processed foods. And while vanity may get the best of some us at times (I mean, who doesn't want to emulate the style of icons like Rihanna and Jeff Goldblum?), we are increasingly more inclined to purchase the latest fashion trends from environmentally-conscious brands. While there is still room for growth in the adoption of environmentally friendly practices amongst my generational cohort, all signs seem to suggest we are renewing the way we interact with our planet.

If you are willing to look past the misguided and unjust labels affixed to the millennial ethos, you’ll see a generation of innovators pushing themselves to rectify never before seen challenges.