Believe in Millennials

EarthzineClimate, Original

Earthzine intern Sarah Frazier shares her thoughts on her generation‰Ûªs role in dealing with climate change.

Generations, in the meadow. Image Credit: Martin Fisch.

Generations, in the meadow. Image Credit: Martin Fisch.

I am a millennial.

I was born in 1993, and according to my answers on the Pew Research Millennial quiz, my millennial score is 82 ‰ÛÒ so I‰Ûªm pretty qualified to speak as a millennial.

Millennials have a reputation as the generation that spends all our time taking selfies and tweeting. Statistically, we‰Ûªre less likely to identify as environmentalists. But I still think that we can make the necessary progress toward environmental change.

Some of the stats are in our favor here ‰ÛÒ we drive about 23 percent less than people our age did just 13 years ago, and we‰Ûªre optimistic about the future despite our lowered expectation of economic prosperity. We believe the government should be more involved in solving problems, which hopefully means that our voting tendencies will result in some proactive environmental policy. We‰Ûªre on track to be the most educated generation in history, hopefully increasing scientific literacy and thereby acceptance of human-caused climate change.

More importantly, I think we‰Ûªre perfectly positioned to make some truly innovative moves toward environmentally-friendly living and other appropriate responses to climate change simply due to the social climate we live in. One thing that people forget to talk about is the fact that millennials are developing our careers in a world of broken barriers.

Due to the combined efforts of several generations, the world (including the world of science and technology) is now open to more people than ever before. People who have been denied higher education and jobs in the past — like women, people of color, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people — are gaining representation in universities, research institutions, and tech companies. The rise of open-source education means that those who can‰Ûªt afford higher education can still work toward a deeper understanding of science and technology. We‰Ûªve certainly not gotten rid of all the ‰ÛÒisms and ‰ÛÒphobias that hurt people and keep them out of positions they have earned, but we‰Ûªre closer to an equitable world.

This growing inclusiveness means that we‰Ûªre reducing the amount of talent going to waste. For example, the percentage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has more than doubled from 1970 to 2011, while the percentage of non-white STEM workers has increased from 6 percent to 29 percent in the same period. (Unfortunately, similar statistics are not available for LGBT people in the sciences.)

Since we know that people of all sorts of identities can do amazing science and develop incredible technology (see examples here, here, and here), it‰Ûªs an unfortunate follow that by excluding people from research and academia in the past, our science and technology have suffered from the loss of their talent.

Now, by taking all of the talent, all of the hard work, and all of the passion we can get, we‰Ûªre poised to make enormous leaps.

And even though millennials place less importance on participating in traditional environmental cleanup projects than previous generations, we do agree that nation-wide efforts toward environmental protection are in order. We disagree on what, exactly, to do, but as Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science says, that‰Ûªs the debate we want to be having right now.

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