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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 .
Jedediah Purdy’s essay in AEON may be challenging bedtime literature but it’s worth reading, and rereading, if you want a more holistic view of our current planetary predicament.
I find his conclusions to be a theoretical exploration if not a remedy to the daily frustrations that I run into. The whole idea of being able to do nothing about everything does not sit well me. I much prefer the lessons we have learned in the past that we can change behaviors and cultures, but it often takes a lot of effort and it can take decades.
The Transcendental Movement of the early 1900s took decades but eventually changed the American perspective of the human ability to change – to change one’s situation, one’s place in life. It gave us the sense that we can achieve much more than the life we were born into.
The Conservation Movement of the late 1900s taught us that we can and should preserve our natural resources including lumber, land, water, and of course our great national parks. We went from a culture solely focused on exploitation to one that started to balance other qualities of life into the equation.
The woman’s suffrage movement also took decades as did the human rights for people of color and sexual preference.
The basic idea and struggle for human rights – such as the right to democratic standing in planetary change – allows us, in fact, impels us to challenge our institutions to create a better and more sustainable world. We need to turn what appears to be an unmanageable situation into a campaign where we can all better focus our energies.
Purdy’s concept of a “democratic Anthropocene is just a thought for now, but it can also be a tool that activists, thinkers and leaders use to craft challenges and invitations that bring some of us a little closer to a better possible world, or a worse one. The idea that the world people get to inhabit will only be the one they make is, in fact, imperative to the development of a political and institutional program, even if the idea itself does not tell anyone how to do that. There might not be a world to win, or even save, but there is a humanity to be shaped and reshaped, freely and always in partial and provisional ways, that can begin intending the world it shapes.”
Purdy is Professor of Law at Duke University in North Carolina. His forthcoming book is After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene.
I have listed below my recommendations for summer reading. Several of these were instrumental to me in developing my perspectives on environmental issues. Others were helpful in my research for my books (see below). Yes, of course, I would like you to read and get inspired by my two books, but don’t stop there. These other ones are classics. (more…)