But Do Want to Be Environmental

 

I recently attended a reading at one of our excellent local book stores, Elk River Books, which frequently hosts thought-provoking forums on cultural and environmental topics. The featured author had written an intriguing profile of two iconic Western writers—Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey. Their books, back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, were required reading if you were to call yourself an environmentalist.  It was obvious many in attendance had been heavily influenced by these novelists-essayists. I was one of them.

IMG 0508Father and son: two generations of green Glicks, Dennis and Billy, exploring Montana.Soon after introduced, the author and audience began to lament how young people don’t seem that interested in the environmental movement.  Apparently fewer and fewer college students are familiar with these authors, evidence that they were less concerned about the health of the environment than we were at their age.  Many in the room, gray flecked in their hair, nodded in agreement.

I wondered, if there had been anyone under the age of 30, would they have agreed?  Or would they have called… bullshit?  

I suspect the young people I know might have just thought, “Whatever,” and continued living their lives the way they live them -- further proof of their disinterest in environmental values.  

But how do they live their lives?  I contend that many are living a much more environmentally benign existence than us card carrying enviromeddlers (a favorite Abbey moniker).   Certainly their carbon footprint, perhaps the most relevant metric for evaluating ones impact on the planet, is lighter than that of most of us who grew up in the car-crazed 21st century when we got our driver’s licenses the millisecond we turned 16. Many kids today just don’t seem that   interested in driving.  And even when they get their licenses, they are cool with public transportation if it’s available, or foot and bicycle travel. How about you? Have you taken a bus lately, even when visiting a city with great transit?

 

Most young people don’t want to live on “10 acres of paradise,” which in many places is prime wildlife habitat. They want to be in town, and as close to Main Street as possible.   And while they may not spend as much time in the backcountry as we did (and really folks, how many of us are still doing that?) neither do they think that the backcountry should be degraded or destroyed.

 

Then the issue of where young people are choosing to live. There’s a certain amount of truth to that old joke; What’s the difference between a developer and an environmentalist? The developer sees a pristine meadow with elk grazing next to a forest and says; I want to build a house there. The environmentalist on the other hand, already has.  

Most young people don’t want to live on “10 acres of paradise,” which in many places is prime wildlife habitat. They want to be in town, and as close to Main Street as possible.   And while they may not spend as much time in the backcountry as we did (and really folks, how many of us are still doing that?) neither do they think that the backcountry should be degraded or destroyed. They want to make sure that their high school and college mascots – grizzlies, bobcats, hawks, wolverines, wolves, beavers, gators, etc. don’t go extinct.  Even if they don’t have as much contact with the wild as we did, they like knowing it’s out there.  In fact, I would assert that many young people—of course it’s impossible to generalize a generation—are willing to exhibit restraint even if it affects their own personal recreational pursuits.

Teens and twentysomethings also don’t seem to need a lot of “stuff,” unlike many of my peers whose motto was, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”  But then you say; All they do is play with their smart phones! Why, when I was young, we were playing with snakes and frogs. OK Tom Sawyer, but remember, we gave up the herps for jet plane rides to Nepal, Toyota Tundra Crew Cabs, Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Jackets, drift boats and rubber rafts, 2,600 sq foot log homes, awesome sound systems, and…SMART PHONES!  

Yes, the dirty little secret of 2015 is that adults – even oldsters like me -- are spending as much time fiddling with smart phones and apps as their kids. Probably even more since we can’t figure the damn things out!

Finally, unlike our highest-level decision makers, many young people really are freaked out about climate change.  They are having to deal with a scary problem foisted on them by us, thanks to our consumptive habits, and they’re  going to have to live with it.   They want and expect to breath clean air, drink clean water, and eat chemical-free food.  In their minds, it’s not even up for debate.

In that sense, many young people are far beyond in their thinking where Baby Boomers had hoped to be.

I admit that this subjective, not necessarily fact based assessment of the environmental consciousness of younger generations, is really just a plea to not judge our youth by how similar they are regards to what they read, the way they dress, how they play, and where they live.  

No, wait!  Actually you should judge them by this, because if you do, chances are you will discover that in their own, unpretentious way, they are living lightly on the land, perhaps lighter than we ever did, or will.  Remember, they didn’t create the mess they are inheriting. We did. Maybe we should start reading what they are reading!  It seems to be instilling an environmental ethic that rivals our own.

 

Editor's Note: Livingston resident Dennis Glick, who has been a professional conservationist for four decades in the US and Latin America, is the Director of Bozeman-based Future West, a local non-profit dedicated to helping communities create the future that they want.  He is also a dad and avid outdoorsperson.