In Defense of Millennials

I’ve come across a number of posts like the one below, recently. I tell you what, nothing ticks me off like self-righteous nostalgia, taken out on the younger generations. (I love how the post ends with “we don’t like being old in the first place…” which is where the bulk of the anger seems to originate with any generation once they hit a certain age. Aging is a bitch, no doubt about it. It equalizes everyone in that once you get old, it’s rather fashionable to bitch about how young people are the worst.)

So here’s my response:

When you act in accordance with 95% of the population, you are not special. Meaning, when milk came only in glass jars delivered by the farmer who milked the cows himself, you do not get to consider yourself “green” for using glass jars instead of plastic jugs for your weekly milk. That’s what everyone did. That’s how everyone lived. The farming industrial complex hadn’t risen to power yet, and plastics were in their infancy in production lines. You aren’t “green” if you’re living the only way society knew how.

When paper bags were all that was used in grocery stores, it wasn’t “green” to use them. Today, if you consciously ask for paper or bring your own bags to the store to avoid 20 more crappy plastic bags filling your closet or garbage, you are acting thoughtfully and consciously. You can claim “green” status. The younger generation has founded entire grocery stores on the concept of zero packaging, where customers take full responsibility for bringing their own containers – and pay for the privilege. The majority of their shoppers are young people, not the older generation who loves to laud their own “green” virtues while spitting on the idea that they should have to continue to live as they used to.

Yet despite all the ways those over 65 now seem to know how to be “green”, many don’t live by them. How many Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers still use glass milk jars, or reuse plastic bottles, or turn their shower off while they shampoo their hair, or avoid using dryers for laundry, or avoid disposable diapers?

Most grandparents I’ve met love the hell out of throwing shit away instead of putting a dirty diaper in the wash. Most people over 65 that I know have more crap in their homes, including kitchen appliances, plastic decorations, multiple fake Christmas trees, and just plain shit than younger generations who are consciously trying to stay “lean” in an era where you are expected to Walmart the heck out of every corner of your home.

So the “green” people are those who live consciously, regardless of their generation. I actually agree with the grocery store clerk. Earlier generations didn’t think about being “green” or living eco-consciously. They just did what they did because that’s how people made do when industrial junk was not as readily available as it is today. But as soon as that industrial junk became available, most of those who like to wax poetic about “the good old days” (when rivers could be set on fire due to the chemicals dumped in them from industrial waste, or when fish kills due to effluence were as common as hushpuppies) happily joined the ranks of the industrial complex and surrounded themselves in stuff they didn’t need.

Millennials, on the other hand, have to think. They have to think hard about how to use less stuff, how to make do with less when every message in society tells you you’ll die without the latest gadget. They have to choose glass or reusable containers to take to lunch, and plan to be different than their peers. They have to eschew the notion of convenience in favor of a higher purpose. They have to work to reverse the tide set by the very generation that so often likes to bash them for their incompetence. (The same older generation that now happily lives off the fat of their lack of eco-friendliness.)

Green millennials often avoid television and cable altogether, seamlessly integrating their entertainment and work onto small devices which are more and more energy-efficient. Green millennials opt to purchase hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicles and support the use of alternative energy sources, even if it may cost them extra and people around them drive Denalis. Who’s “green” in that scenario?

Sure, there are plenty of young people who don’t think twice about their impact on their environment. I’d say they are the children of those in older generations who also didn’t think twice and the grandchildren of those Baby Boomers who own more gadgets and whatzits than I can imagine. But blaming millennials for an inherited situation seems like whipping a dog for never being potty-trained. Getting pissy at them when they try to express their thoughts around the “green” movement doesn’t seem encouraging either.

People who feel that young generations might need some perspective should add a thoughtful comment or two after listening to the young person. For example, the offended woman could have said, “You’re right, I used to use paper bags every day as a child. Could I use paper today and I’ll bring my linen bags next time? Better yet, maybe you could offer paper bags to all customers first as they are more biodegradable.” Turn offense into a teaching moment of how the girl can help. Teach her about history without the snark.

Because honestly, the girl had a point. Perhaps it was not made elegantly, but it was a valid point. So don’t take it out on millennials for how the world is today. They hear every day what terrible kids they are, how lazy they are, how ungrateful, how blah blah blah. Well, if they are that way, blame their parents, not them. Blame the practices that have allowed industrialism to overtake everyday life unchecked.

Before accusing young people of being rude, remember that a blameless person in an older generation should bring her own bags to the grocery store. Better yet, support the local farmer’s market.