“Young people like you.” It doesn’t matter where we’re at—a Farmer’s Market, a church, a documentary viewing, a potluck, a Climate Cafe, a rally, a street corner, or a market square—someone like you always says those four words.
“What a great summer job for young people like you.”
“Thank goodness for young people like you.”
“We love the kind of work being done by young people like you.”
“We need more young people like you.”
“The future depends on young people like you.”
You always tell me how “neat” you think my work this summer is, enthusiastically insisting that you “support” it. You throw out words like “hero” and “role model,” and then you sincerely thank me for doing what I’m doing to improve the world. Ignoring the manners my parents taught me, I never say “You’re welcome.” I say “Join me!” and you laugh as you tell me you wish you could. You explain that you were involved in “this sort of thing” when you were in college, but that you’re too busy now, too old.
What makes you think that I’m not busy? And who told you that you’re too old?
I cringe at the occasional “I’m sorry that we really f*cked things up for you guys” and “Thank you for cleaning up my generation’s mess.” A moment of awkward tension between us always follows those words as they register; like we can physically see the burden you are placing on me, on young people like me. My generation inherited from you an unsustainable—even deadly—addiction to fossil fuels, and my generation will live to experience the planet’s hostile reaction to that addiction. You, however, may not be around to see the worst of it.
But don’t worry, you “support” what we’re doing to change things.
I wish you could meet some of the people I’ve met this summer. People like Ann and Pam, retired and committed to attending Newport’s town meetings every two weeks to get their tar sands concerns on the agenda. People like the men and women who walked with us for 18 miles along the route of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline to protest the tar sands. People like Rhett, from Brattleboro, who asked if she could contribute money to the movement because donating time wasn’t an option for her. People like Ruby and Andy of 350 Vermont. People like Marla Marcum, working around the clock to build the climate movement, who is as fearful of the future as I am. None of these inspirations are college kids—your so-called young people like me.
Please know that being past your twenties is not an excuse for passivity. We are never too old, too busy, or even too inexperienced to start doing what we know is right. And as people in vulnerable parts of the world suffer from climate induced food and water shortages, as rising sea levels endanger those who call coastlines or islands “home,” and as coal plants and mountaintop removal continue to cause cancer in surrounding communities, I need you to realize that transitioning away from fossil fuels is that right thing to do.
So, from this point on, don’t thank me for cleaning up this mess; help me! Quit praising the work of young people like me from the sidelines and, instead, recognize what we can accomplish collectively as us. And when I ask you to join me, don’t find excuse in your age. The future of our planet is as much your responsibility as it is mine.
Young people like me