Gen Z: “You can’t borrow it anymore”

By Stephanie Bramwell

The famous phrase, “we don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” encourages sustainable living for the sake of future generations. In the past decade, the children have begun revoking borrowing privileges- Generation Z is taking back the Earth.

Generation Z

Who is Generation Z? While an exact age range has not been universally agreed upon, members of Generation Z are broadly defined as being born after 1995 and before 2015. The oldest members of Generation Z are nearly 25 years old and the youngest are 5 years old.

Generation Z and Millenials, the preceding generation, are more concerned about climate change than older generations. This is unsurprising since they will be subjected to the most extreme consequences of climate change. A study released in December 2019 from Amnesty International surveyed individuals ages 18 to 25 about their fears for the world. The most agreed upon important issue facing the world was climate change, selected by 41% of respondents. Pollution was the second most cited option, chosen by 38% of respondents, and loss of natural resources was the fourth most popular option (23%) after terrorism (31%).

You might think the respondents who participated in the survey are far away from your life. In a considerably more limited study, this past November I surveyed approximately 100 of my peers between the ages of 18 and 22. Among the responses, 60% agreed the climate crisis is the most urgent issue of our time. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most urgent crisis of our time, no one selected below a 3. Generation Z has prompted an awakening on the urgency of dealing with climate change.

Climate Change

Climate change is an insidious problem because the relationship between its causes and consequences is difficult to track and not always intuitive to us; when I look at the sky I can’t see the greenhouse gases thickening the atmosphere. However, the consequences of this increase in greenhouse gases are tangible. They include extreme weather events, wildfires, and a shifting in the availability of resources that threatens our society and economic development. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we have ten years to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the planet is irreparably damaged. Within this period, Generation Z will be acutely impacted by these consequences. Those of us that have privileged lives are grappling with the knowledge that our futures will be drastically different than the lives of our parents.

Gladly, not only is the younger generation concerned about the climate crisis, but we are also taking steps to bring this issue to more people’s attention. One example of Youth environmental movements is Fridays for the Future. Fridays for the Future is now a world-wide movement with some students striking every week and other strikes, such as the Global Youth Climate Strike preceding the UN Climate Action Summit in September, attended by approximately 4 million people world-wide. The leader of the Fridays for the Future movement is activist Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old member of Generation Z from Sweden. In August 2018 she began protesting for climate action in front of the Swedish Parliament building on Fridays instead of attending school. The pressure upon Generation Z is stifling, yet visionaries such as Greta Thunberg tirelessly advocate for logical solutions in spite of opposition. In an interview with NBC, Thunberg explained, “I can’t be proud of something until [a decline in greenhouse gas emissions] has been achieved.” This wisdom is an example for all of us, not only members of Generation Z.

Looking Forward

In order to reduce fossil fuel emissions and thus avoid the most devastating impacts of the climate crisis individual habits and corporate and government systems must change. While we are waiting for further action from governments and companies, where do we go from here? Will we have to suffer the most devastating effects of climate change is defined by the conclusion of the alphabet?

As a proud member of Generation Z, I advocate the philosophy that it is our privilege to transform these systems to create a sustainable future. We can–

  • continue to learn about the planet and share our knowledge with those around us (which is an opportunity to better ourselves).
  • reduce our individual carbon footprint with available tools and offset the emissions we cannot avoid by purchasing carbon credits.
  • be eco-consumers to support companies that are dedicated to limiting their environmental impact.

In 2020, Generation Z and Millenials are expected to make-up the largest percentage of registered voters in the U.S. It is our right to elect officials that will address climate change as the crisis it is. The dedication of individuals such as Greta Thunberg and the millions of anonymous people, of all ages, who strive to live sustainably provides an opportunity for the closure of this decade to mark not only the end of an era of environmental abuse, but the beginning of humanity’s sustainable and prosperous future.

We know inheriting the Earth is not our birthright, rather it is our joyful responsibility to prepare this world for our children.