Intergenerational Dialogue for Environmental Problem-Solving
This week, CEE hosted a Women’s Environmental Network (WEN-MN) panel discussion “Millennials as Environmental Leaders: What Does the Future Hold?” The speakers and audience moved beyond “generation me” stereotypes (sense of entitlement, social media literacy) and took a closer look at the skills and perspective each generation can offer to help solve environmental issues.
Alondra Cano, Immigrant Rights Activist and City Councilmember-elect, outlined her experiences organizing for change before Facebook and Twitter. While these tools have changed the field, she maintained that organizing is still about testing boundaries and finding your voice. Her personal experiences growing up sparked her passion for environmental and food justice. To Alondra, millennials represent change, revitalization, and energy.
Deanna White, State Director of Clean Water Action, sees her organization as a “training ground for environmental action.” The canvassing model is based on relationships, and changing minds by meeting people where they’re at and walking them through the issues. She sees millennials as incredibly passionate individuals who are connected to their communities. But she noted that they define “community” by common beliefs and shared values as opposed to geographic location.
Kate Knuth, Director of the Boreas Leadership Program at the U of M Institute on the Environment works with self-selected students on leadership programs. She started out studying insects, but “couldn’t just study something that was constantly under threat.” After earning her MA in Europe, she returned home to Minnesota. And as a millennial she was driven (and, in her own words “felt entitled enough”) to run for and subsequently win a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Kate stressed that leadership means rising to the challenges you need to solve, and that her experience in office taught her that getting the policy details right on environmental issues is key.
A full house of about seventy-five attendees asked thought-provoking questions.
How can the environmental movement engage with a more diverse audience?
Alondra noted that these communities are already discussing environmental justice, so we need to tune in and understand their unique perspective. She used the example of the local food movement, explaining the negative perceptions of farming that exist in many communities of color. While a recent liberal arts graduate from the suburb might think community gardens are the perfect solution to food deserts, she may not associate agriculture with the exploitation of recent immigrants or with slavery. So the key is to forge partnerships and get to know our neighbors.
Regarding the “war on science” on the left, how can millennials overcome the fact that older generations think we’re not pragmatic?
Kate explained that while “science is a piece of the information,” at the end of the day, “impact matters more than being right.” And while scientists can explain how human behavior is changing the climate, they can’t outline all the steps of what to do next. Those are value questions; policy is ultimately guided by values. Alondra encouraged the audience to keep dreaming and imagining a better world for us all. And Deanna said that while compromise doesn’t always result in a solution that makes everyone happy, we need as many solutions as we can get in order to more forward and tackle complex environmental issues.
Bridget McLaughlin, CEE’s Manager of Client and Government Affairs and WEN-MN Board Member kicked off the event with a brief introduction to CEE. A number of guests stayed afterwards to continue conversations sparked by the panel discussion and tour our Innovation Exchange. A big thanks to the Women’s Environmental Network for a positive and inclusive dialogue!
Image credit: Fortune Live Media via Creative Commons