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Please stop saying my generation will save the world


4 min read

Mar 7



A Zillennial describes the relentless pressure she feels to stop the climate crisis

Image credit: Isabelle Drury. Design by Gen Dread.

We’ve all done it.

We’ve observed generations younger than ours and breathed a huge sigh of relief: they get climate change. They’re out at the marches. They care about it. They’re so much more knowledgeable and socially conscious than we ever were growing up! Plus they’ve got social media, so they can organize more efficiently. WHEW. The future is in good hands. The kids are alright. They’re going to save the world.

But we need to pause and think how those assumptions feel to a young person. 

Today we’re going to pass the mic to Isabelle Drury who will tell you exactly how it feels.

I am what you would call a ‘Zillennial’. This means I was born on the cusp of the Millennial and Generation Z demographic cohorts. I grew up with the first iterations of social media. I remember when Facebook was still cool and when Instagram or TikTok didn’t even exist. My first phone was a brick, I coveted the Motorola Razr, and I didn’t graduate to a touch screen until I turned 13. Oh, and like many of my fellow young people, I grew up with the inescapable knowledge that the climate crisis presented a very real risk to my future. 

Although that last point isn’t a unique concept to the world of Gen Z, we have been awarded the unique experience of being called the last generation that can stop the climate crisis. 

Young people around the world are feeling the climate change fear. In a survey of 10,000 young people–aged 16-25 years old–across 10 countries, 59% said they were very or extremely worried about climate change. More than half felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, and guilty, and over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily lives. If these feelings of doom weren’t enough, 39% felt hesitant to have children due to uncertainty about the future. 

I can’t tell you the number of times an older person (I’m talking Gen X all the way up to the Silent Generation) has turned to me and said: “You young folks are so educated about climate change”, “Younger people’s dedication to the climate crisis gives me hope”, or “Gen Z will solve the climate crisis”. 

No pressure, right?

Image credit: Unsplash.

Where is the guidance from our elders?

They probably think it’s encouraging. I can imagine it’s a relief to see Gen Z’s dedication if you come from a generation where climate change wasn’t a popular topic. But it's actually incredibly demoralizing. It feels more like they’re saying to me, “Yeah, I know we fucked up the planet pretty bad (unknowingly and knowingly), but I can’t do anything about it now. It’s your problem. Good luck!” 

There’s not only carelessness in the words that have been said to me but in actions too – voting for damaging policies for immediate gratification (ahem, Brexit) or continuing with actions that we know harm the Earth. 

For our entire lives, we’ve been hearing about climate change, its disastrous effects, and the consistent refusal of politicians to do anything about it, and now it’s our responsibility to fix it. We’ve suddenly become the generation that's going to save the world. 

Every day, a new climate catastrophe is plastered across the news, or there’s a new petition to sign against a disastrous law that will set us back 50 years. Then there's the Extinction Rebellion founder telling us we face annihilation, and another leader saying that if we don’t get emissions to zero within months, humanity is going to be wiped out. Yet, apart from an Instagram account telling us to use a reusable cup and buy second-hand clothing, there’s no real guidance on what to do next. How can one even begin to piece together a solution in a system that’s so broken? 

There’s a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from the book The Little Prince that goes: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” I feel like this is the perfect example of what we young activists need the most: guidance.

Image credit: Unsplash.

Whether you’re 36 or 72, you have a whole lot more experience than we do, and for a crisis that defies obvious solutions, we could do with a bit of hand-holding. Tell us how the hippie movement rose and failed, and the mistakes you made. Tell us how CND (nuclear disarmament) has kept going for over 50 years while up against slow change. Tell us how the Big Ask campaign introduced the Climate Change Bill. Tell us how we failed to stop the Iraq war but picked ourselves up and carried on anyway. 

How are we meant to become agents of powerful change without the knowledge of what has worked before? We need to be taught what has worked before – and what hasn’t – so we don’t waste our time making the same mistakes over and over again. 

We also need to look outside to elders of other cultures that seem radically different to ours, elders who have memories and knowledge of times before modernity and access to wisdom we have forgotten. 

To my fellow young people, humans have been trying to solve the issues that other humans have created for millennia. Grieve the loss of a type of future you may no longer have, and celebrate the whisperings of a better world for us all. The world isn’t in our hands to save or destroy. We don’t need to be hopeful or hopeless, we just need to be. 

We will do things out of love, and we will do things out of fear, but as long as with each step we take we slowly weave a new world, then that might just be enough.

Isabelle Drury writes Finding Sanity, a newsletter with a curated collection of articles relating to climate, sustainability, post-capitalist worlds, and more.

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