In Defense of Greta Thunberg and Younger Generations
I was born at the leading edge of Generation X (mid-1960s). We were the apathetic generation, the disaffected. Heck, that’s where the name of our generation even came from! We were the ones the Baby Boomers were talking about in the late 1980s when they lamented the lack of political activism on college campuses. Were we really such cynical, nihilistic weasels? Are we now? I don’t know. I know I’ve become steadily more outraged at the direction the world is headed most of my adult life. To quote the Boomers, “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.”
Millennials Have Always Had My Support (Because They’ve Always Had My Back)
It’s interesting the Baby Boomers had nothing but criticism for my generation, because Millennials were likewise ridiculed for not giving a damn, as well. By some of the same Boomers, of course. They were also portrayed as self-absorbed and entitled. A Millennial I know once took issue with a social media post ridiculing Millenials and their work ethic. I have to say I agreed with her. In the past ten years or so, I have worked a lot with people born in the 1980s and early 1990s. I have to say that they are some of the most responsible, with-it, clear-thinking individuals I know. Even though they are moving quickly out of their 20s and into their 30s, they somehow have not yet lost their idealism.
In fact, it is the ideals of that generation that first caught my notice. A little less than a decade ago, I came out as transgender and started my transition. Coworkers freaked. Family members my age and older freaked. Friends from college and high school disappeared in the night. You know who didn’t freak or shrink away in horror? Most of the millenials in my life. My nieces — about 20 years old at the time — have always been my staunchest supporters, even when others in the family were unsure how to react to my transition.
And that has been my experience with a lot of Millennials — they are more open-minded about the things that made their parents freak out. And when I go to political protests or work in my community to affect change, I am not surprised to see so many Millennial faces alongside me.
Even More Abuse is Heaped on Gen Z
Then there’s the younger generation, the one just coming of age. It’s the generation of the Parkland shooting survivors who spoke out against gun violence. The generation that has given us Greta Thunberg. Now there is a truly remarkable young woman. She has traveled around the world, given a Ted Talk. Most recently she gave the adults of our world (by way of the U.N.) a much-needed dressing down. “How dare you!” she said to the elders who have let her and her peers down so completely when it comes to dealing with climate change. How dare you, indeed.
As with the Parkland students, she has been ridiculed by those old enough to know better. To be fair, it’s mostly been conservatives and climate science-deniers, so maybe they don’t know any better. All the same, I have a feeling they have to know they are being at least a little bit disingenuous when comparing her to the Hitler Youth or claiming she is too young to know what she is talking about.
Yes, in the case of both Parkland and Greta Thunberg you can make a case that the character assassination is mostly coming from the right wing and not from other quarters within the older generations. Although that rings true, it is nevertheless older pundits who seem to be getting any traction. And because these young people have all challenged earlier generations — their parents’ and grandparents’ generations — it is no surprise that most of the resistance to what they say comes from older people.
No Truth to the Criticism
Just as the with the antipathy of Boomers and Gen X against Millennials, though, widespread dismissal of Greta Thunberg and her generation is — to use a highly technical term — bullshit. Greta is not the only person arguing that we have no time to wait to combat climate change. David Hogg and Emma González were not the only ones calling for stricter gun control laws. They are, however, some of the people most affected by these issues. By the time the sea levels rise to the point my current home in Boston is under water, I will probably be in a nursing home (or more likely dead). The folks too busy worrying about accumulating wealth to care about the economic and humanitarian crises implied by climate change will certainly find ways to avoid the worst of the ramifications themselves. And many of them will also be long-gone: the youngest Baby Boomers are approaching their sixties. Greta Thunberg and her peers, though, are the ones who are going to have to address the crisis. It’s not asking too much for us to get a start now while the situation might be less than totally hopeless.
And the same applies to the young anti-gun activists. The thoughts of those who have been the victims of gun carry much more weight with me than politicians and pundits beholden to the gun manufacturers and hiding behind the Second Amendment.
That hasn’t stopped people from saying about Greta Thunberg that she is too young to know what she’s talking about, that she must have been “brainwashed” by some adults somewhere, that she should be in school instead of admonishing the adults of the world to live up to their responsibilities. Hopefully most people — young and old — see this for what it is: a convenient way to duck the truth. The truth is that most scientific models agree that a reckoning is coming; the only question is whether it will be too devastating for our world to survive. The truth is that the grown ups of this world have dropped the ball. This should have already been dealt with. We shouldn’t need a 16 year old to sail across the ocean and wake us up. As Ms. Thunberg says, how dare we think we have that right?
Is It Fair to Make This a Generational Issue? I Think So
There are some who say that we should not look at these events in generational terms. Climate change is a challenge the entire world faces. I agree with that, but I would urge anyone who claims that to remember that it Baby Boomers or Gen X that are being ridiculed and dismissed. It is the very young people who are about to inherit the mess earlier generations have made. And I’m not just referring to current generations here; widespread use of fossil fuels goes back more than a hundred years, and consumerism isn’t much younger. These are some of the culprits for the way the world is now. It’s just that my generation and the one before it have been complicit by our silence. Yes, there has been the occasional voice in the wilderness (Al Gore, anyone), but the problems that face our youth have not been taken seriously enough.
Is it any wonder that the youth are finally fed up?