Bridging generation, technology gaps, confronting climate change

By Madeline Kovacs

Once again we are at that pivotal moment in our nation’s history when people under 30 years of age have the opportunity to fashion our nation’s next steps. Thomas Friedman’s “Generation Q” will rise to confront climate change; we must.But that is not all that college students will do. To borrow the vocabulary of Eban Goodstein, college students today will rewire the world with clean energy technology, create tens of millions of jobs in manufacturing and green industry, and establish a new political economy based on the principles of ecology.

This may sound like a daunting task, but students are already doing it now. While they are still in school learning the skills to contribute to society as it stands, youth are literally building a movement that is changing the political and economic conversation.

Students are the backbone of think tanks that are making policy recommendations to influence the core agenda of the next president, and they are turning out in record numbers to cast their ballots. As they refill reusable mugs and bike to class, they are also building power conference by conference, email by email, and blog by blog.

But the time frame for turning youthful momentum into a full pendulum swing on climate action is surprisingly narrow: youth climate leaders project that we have 22 months, from Super Tuesday until a year after the presidential inauguration, to convince those already in power to take youth seriously.

In order to accomplish such broad policy shifts rapidly, youth must turn to those experts we have left in the proverbial dust: our parents.

All of us remember conversations with our parents: “No, mom, that’s email. You can get a letter online!” But the internet represents something more than our parents’ slow uptake on technological tools: the majority of legislators in office presently are over 50 years of age, and many of them have expressed a desire to become more internet-savvy in order to know what youth are thinking.

Thus, youth’s great ability with the Internet also impedes our ability to convince our parent’s generation that we are serious. The technology gap has resulted in a severe cultural age gap with few effective channels of communication between youth and state capitols and city halls. Like legislators, our parents want to know what youth are thinking, but, lacking the web-habit that fuels our informational intake, they feel that we are all but silent.

And so the Internet possesses the uncanny ability to hide the very mass movement it is helping to create, even hiding Macalester students’ own activities from their peers. Lack of visibility disguises a number of pivotal events that have occurred over the last year and a half.

On November 2-5, 2007, over 6,000 students representing every state traveled to the United States capitol for Powershift, a conference, teach-in and lobby for government investment in clean, renewable sources of energy. Macalester students joined five other schools at Will Steger’s cabin in Ely, Minnesota to form Team Minnesota and write the manual for the National Campus Energy Challenge (http://ncec08.org). Students have also been making a difference at the St. Paul City Council with their work on the Ford redevelopment site.

Forty years after Vietnam, there again exists enormous youthful energy surrounding the prospect of a brighter future, a potential that must be harnessed and directed. For all our enthusiasm about the earth’s temperature (and we’re talking about a two degree Farenheight difference here), most students also care about truly human issues: jobs in manufacturing, the wage gap, social equity, and the lives of the people in the Southern Hemisphere who will be hit hardest by climate change.

At least one piece of the puzzle becomes the question of how we can convince our parents’ generation that we are serious about climate change, technological investment, green jobs, and a safer future.

How do we show them that this thing happening on the Internet is real? Because the fact is that we need them. College students, the builders of the movement, do not have the time to get a graduate degree and work themselves into a position of real influence before we lose the opportunity to rewire and restructure America and cap warming at manageable levels of human adaptation.

We need our parents like we never have before.

Contact Madeline Kovacs ’08 at [email protected]