Written by Community Solutions Miller Fellow Scott Montgomery
I have been disheartened lately because of the messages I have been hearing about my generation. As a Millennial, I have been bombarded with messages describing us as cry-bullies, narcissists, lacking grit, and having a poor work ethic. Millennials are thought of as the unfortunate result of participation trophies and the self-esteem movement. I find myself internalizing these criticisms and wondering if we are all doomed. As Millennials have reached adulthood, this narrative describing them as a self-obsessed, social-media generation has persisted. This ignores the fact that Millennials created the revolution that is social media and have rewritten the rules of marketing, politics, community organizing and countless institutions. In fact, Millennials have disrupted the majority of the institutions they have come into contact with. As Joel Stein wrote in Time magazine:
"They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the baby boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment but because they’re growing up without one.”
While the fight to stop climate change has begun already, Millennials and Generation Z will lead the charge, and if people judged these generations by media representations, they could expect some awesome selfies of the apocalypse.
However, on a trip to Hayward Middle School in Springfield, OH, I was blown away by the capabilities of the youth I encountered who turned these stereotypes upside-down. Through the Energy Navigators Program, Community Solutions assists Springfield Promise Neighborhood in administering an after school program at HMS. On this afternoon I had been invited to film a Yellow Springs High School student presenting a working prototype of a Stirling Engine he had built. A Stirling Engine is a motor with a piston pushed by air pressure. He walked me through how a solar concentrator could be attached to make the engine carbon free. The design process was indeed complicated and his first effort did not succeed. The second iteration worked beautifully.
As the engine whirred, this bright young engineer elaborated on how he perfected his design by watching YouTube videos. The confluence of technology and young inquisitive minds has the potential to be the recipe for reversing climate change. The icing on this proverbial cake was the ease in which this young man communicated what he had created to his middle school audience. In turn, these middle school students were a captive audience and asked insightful questions.
After listening to the demonstration of the Stirling engine, the middle schoolers moved on to building rocket stoves, a super-efficient heating source for cooking. After this, they showed off a compost pile they had built and explained the composting process. These youth were not only interested in the project, but they were actively creating a more sustainable environment around them. With a solid educational foundation and room to be creative, these students are thriving. As they reach adulthood, Millennials and Generation Z will create a new culture, one that could mitigate climate change.
Rather than observe and wonder what's wrong with kids these days, we might ask a different question: What's right with these kids? Different questions lead to different answers. Millennials are sometimes disparagingly referred to as Generation Why. While intended to be a dig, I take pride in this designation. As a group Millennials are asking Why? and when they find the answers inadequate, they take responsibility for finding solutions.
See a clip of the Stirling Engine in action!