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Gen Zers are Making Their Voices Heard: What We’re Reading This Week

June 16, 2023
A look at some news about the youngest generation that is entering the workplace.

This week’s round up started with a tip to look at a lawsuit about children in Montana trying to hold government accountable for their involvement in climate change.

That led me to reflect on, and learn more about, what this generation is up to. I remember when my generation was being labeled lazy and entitled. And how we were responsible for the demise of everything, including Kraft Singles. At the risk of your ire, I’m going to say it: processed cheese can’t compare to a good block of fresh Wisconsin cheddar.

I was inspired to find pieces that talked about the ambitions, values and anxieties faced by Americans aged 11 to 26. What I found left me inspired and concerned for them. I’ve never liked generational comparisons, because I find that we’re usually more alike than different.

I hope that these stories help you see some commonalities—and that there are opportunities for us all to work together to tackle great problems so our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can enjoy life’s simple pleasures, such as catching lightning bugs on a summer evening or building a snowman on a snow day.

‘Clean and Healthful Environment’

A first-of-its-kind lawsuit is underway in Montana about whether people have a constitutional right to a livable environment. The lawsuit is being watched by lawyers and scholars because it could establish a new precedent about the government’s obligations to protect its citizens from the effects of climate change.

At center is a clause in the state’s constitution that requires officials to maintain a “clean and healthful environment.”

Earlier this year, Montana lawmakers revised the policy to say environmental reviews may not look at greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts unless the federal government makes carbon dioxide a regulated pollutant. The Legislature also passed bills favoring the fossil fuel industry, limiting local government’s ability to promote renewable energy, and increasing the cost to challenge fossil fuel projects in court.

In the three years since the lawsuit was file, State District Judge Kathy Seeley narrowed the scope of the case. Seeley has also said she would not order plans to address climate change, effectively lessening the stakes of the ruling for government and private industry. However, she could issue a declaratory judgment that officials violated the state constitution. That would set precedent, but legal experts say it would be more of a symbolic one.

Still, the case itself is a feat for the environmental group Our Children’s Trust, which has filed climate lawsuits in every state on behalf of young plaintiffs since 2011. Sixteen young Montanans have or are expected to testify about how they are personally affected by the effects of climate change.

Among those was Rikki Held, who testified about a fire that left her ranch powerless for a month, which prevented them from pumping water for their cattle.

“It’s stressful,” Held said tearfully. “That’s my life, and my home is there, and it impacts the well-being of myself, my family, my community.”

Read more here, and check the Associated Press's website for daily updates.

Climate Anxiety

The Montana lawsuit reminds me of a term I have been hearing over the past few years: climate anxiety.

The Handbook of Climate Psychology defines climate anxiety as a “heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system.”

An article in the British Journal of Psychiatry Bulletin details that climate anxiety can lead to symptoms such as panic attacks, loss of appetite, irritability, weakness and sleeplessness. Children are especially susceptible about these concerns about the climate. After all, they realize that this is the future they are inheriting from us. 

Among the many research articles on the topic, I was struck by this NPR story about children sharing with other children ways they are coping with climate change. One piece of advice was to get active in a community project.  

Tanish Doshi, 15, and his friends got together after the Tuscon’s Habitat for Humanity office was flooded. Together, they installed drainage pipes, holding basins and rerouted water to absorbent areas with plants.  

"For me, advocacy and action has alleviated some of my climate anxiety because it shows me success is possible, right?" he says. "If a group of teenagers here in Tucson can have this success and if teenagers across the country are having similar success, that can really lead to reforms on the national level."

Read more stories that may give you hope for the future here.

Tracking Youth Activism in Florida

I don’t know about you, but the past decade has felt like an interminable amount of time and simultaneously the blink of an eye. As a result, it’s difficult for me to recall everything that’s happened.

One thing I have observed about Gen Z is that they seem to be more civic minded than I was at their age. This in-depth piece from Teen Vogue about youth activism  in Florida helped me see a broader picture.

Regardless of your personal opinions, I think the piece helps offers context. Since the onset of COVID-19, we have been talking about some issues and movements as though they sprang up overnight. They didn’t. This piece details some issues and movements that have been steadily gaining traction over the past decade.

What’s more, this piece helped me to see more about the youngest generation that’s in or entering the workforce. People aren’t able to leave their problems at the door when they come into work, so it makes sense that as younger people come into the office, they will bring their opinions and beliefs with them—and the subsequent expectation that their employers will want to create a welcoming environment for all workers. 

While you may not agree with their opinions or politics, it’s clear that these issues will need to be addressed, or at the very least discussed, in the workplace. 

Reading more here here.

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