Guest Post by Author Julie Dunlap
Growing up has always been tough. But the millennial generation, my young adult children’s cohort, faced especially daunting challenges. The 9/11 terror attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, and SuperStorm Sandy, along with melting ice caps and bleaching coral reefs, have been formative events in their youths and childhoods, shaping their understanding of people and planet along with their maturing characters. As an environmentalist and a parent of four, I wondered and worried how early experiences of a shifting and troubled Earth may alter young adults’ attachments to place and the natural world.
To explore these questions, I joined with Anne Arundel Community College professor Susan A. Cohen (also a mom of two millennials) to collect essays by young writers grappling with growing up in an era replete with environmental and social crises. The result is a new anthology, published this month by Trinity University Press—Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet. The collection’s title alludes to Bill McKibben’s book, The End of Nature, published in 1989 before many of our contributors were born. In the 1990s, McKibben’s best-seller introduced me and millions of other then-young parents to the looming threats of climate change and humanity’s ubiquitous alterations of our basic natural systems.
Perhaps anger was the emotion I most expected at the project’s outset, and some Coming of Age contributors do rail against their earthly inheritance, against the losses imposed as forests shrink and oceans sully. Yet others question older generations’ ideas, rejecting the view that a tourist-thronged canyon is inherently compromised, and insisting that pristine wilderness need not be the ultimate definition of natural beauty. Many find ways to celebrate remaining pockets of tenacious nature, the return of raptors to urban parks, or the rejuvenation of community through sharing food foraged in the wild. And most heartening of all, woven through essay after essay, are feelings of love, of home, and of commitment to a thriving future. Far from the entitled laggards of media myth, these young people are seizing and creating opportunities to protest, study, plant, explore, build, teach, and of course write about the challenges they face and the solutions they foresee. McKibben, in his generous foreword to Coming of Age at the End of Nature, praises the essays as “mature, reflective, deep, and lovely,” but also and most of all “hopeful.”
Of course, I still wonder and worry about what lies ahead for my children and yours, as places and processes we knew to be timeless transform at an accelerating pace. But thanks to the youthful voices in this collection, I know the rising millennial generation has roots in their Earth, deep and wide, and the resilience to face whatever comes next.
Julie Dunlap is a writer, editor, and educator living in Columbia, Maryland. For more information about Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet, please visit: http://tupress.org/books/coming-of-age-at-the-end-of-nature .