Green the new American Dream?

This post from Matt over at TheWyze is interesting:

‘Green’ is to Gen Y what ‘Peace’ was to Gen X

He does seem to confuse the attitude of Boomer (born 1943-1960) with [X], since Boomers were the ones protesting for peace for so many years. Gen X didn’t protest for (or against) anything.

But there is another aspect to the green attitude of Millennial (born 1982-2004) which is their tendency towards group think. Millennials are excellent at teamwork and collectivism, but they are also subject to over-simplifying problems. In this way they are very similar to the G.I. (born 1901-1924) who overcame the Axis in WWII. That generation also had a severe case of group think which became more obvious after the war when they put together the shallow “American Dream” which their Boomer kids later rebelled against.

I believe “green” will be held by the Millennials (aka Gen Y) in the same way as the American Dream was held by the GI’s: as a shallow ideal that their kids will eventually rebel against. For example, I can see that 30 years from now everyone will have a “carbon counter” on their phone, house, whatever, and they will measure their status by the number on that device. But, as their kids will probably point out, they won’t be any more connected to mother nature. And so the cycle continues.

This recent article about a Volvo experiment with “CO2 pedometers” is a forerunner to this concept. I picture CO2 emission counters being used in daily life, either on a cell phone or attached to your house/car/children. Your CO2 count will be a measure of your social conscience just like a well-manicured lawn was back in the 1950’s. But, just like those 50’s ideals, it will be a thin veneer that will eventually be challenged by the next Prophet generation (the kids of the Millennials). I can hear them saying, “Okay, Mom, your carbon count is tiny but where is your connection to Mother Earth? When is the last time you actually rolled in the dirt?”). The more things change…

15 thoughts on “Green the new American Dream?”

  1. Dave,
    Every time I read that the Gen Y is leading the green charge I go a little crazy. I think back to the years I worked in Air Force public affairs. This was 15 years ago. I worked with many Gen X engineers, and in all fairness, Boomers, who were implementing the cutting edge technologies – test bedding them, innovating applications – that Gen Y claims to be trending on. It literally makes my head roll. If not for the Boomer, Silent and Gen X engineers, these technologies would NOT be around. Also, Gen X revived Earth Day in 1990 – while WE were in college and high school or just starting our careers. WE brought it back. Of course, I have my bias – i want to claim all good things come from Gen X.

    Anyway, as far as green building in OKC – all Gen Xers; as far urban infill in OKC – all Gen Xers. Gen Y does seem to buy greener cars, but that's b/c they don't have kids yet and can still drive a rollerskate. I can't fit my kids in a Prius.

    OK – enough griping. You always come up with the best angles. I bet if we put our heads together and lived closer we could land a NY Times Op Ed. What would it be about?

  2. I'd hate for your prediction to come true Dave but if it does then I will be one of the adults in thirty years sympathizing with the kids while all of the other adult millenialls are trashing them.

    The scary thing is that if you think that it takes until the generation following our own to really take green movement seriously then we will be dependent on middle eastern oil until the 2060s which will mean sixty years more of shitty foreign policy decisions. If you look at the types of 21st century technologies that exist in conjunction with religious fundamentalism it can be a scary combo. That's why I really hope that my generation (the millennials) does more then just measure CO2 emissions.

    1. @JoeMulk – I am an optimist (at least for a Gen X'er) and I believe that the Millennials will fix a lot of the issues that face the planet today. I don't mean to imply, in any way, that Millennials will be stupid or short-sighted in their fixes, but they probably won't spend a ton of time looking at the long-term repercussions of their direction. Doing so would require the approach of the Silents or Boomers and would likely result in more analysis paralysis. The time for action is now (or earlier) and I trust that Millennials get that and will move quickly to fix the most pressing issues, and will probably do so as a unified group.

      So we may see a lessened dependency on foreign oil in the near future (since this is a pressing concern). And we may see carbon emissions decrease. I feel these are quite likely. But what we won't see is the enactment of a long-term vision that addresses the way we exist on this planet. That will have to wait for a couple more generations.

  3. Just this past weekend, I was at the Virgin Festival in Columbia, Md. I went with my BFF and generational-theory-oriented friend, so whatever we do, we can always view things through both of our perspectives to look at generational dynamics.

    The VirginFest event grounds were covered with trash. Covered. Nothing new there, right? Nothing generational, per se, right? But what struck me was the orientation of Millennials to run around (since their grade school days) with big smiles on their faces, talking about how we have to recycle, or save the planet/ the whatevers. Now, they attend whopper conferences, such as Power, in DC and en masse, claim to go before elected reps telling adults to change laws to save the planet. All the while, I'm sure, convinced they are leading the charge.

    I'm ALL FOR a culture shift that values environmental integrity, conservation, good use of resources, etc. And I believe in the collective, can-do of the Millennial Might to align behind a few select (albeit, not deep) issues and shift culture. Yeah.

    But this is what I tweeted from the VirginFest this weekend, literally: "I don't ever want to hear a single millennial- gen y talk about green/Eco/environmental issues if they can't first pickup their gdam trash."

    You want green/eco/whatever, Millennials. Go for it! Really. Just make sure your own actions align with your big goals. Otherwise, well … look to the history books for your own future …

    1. JessieX – I think you really nailed it with that statement about the Millennial attitude. Gen X'ers are all about personal responsibility. If we have a problem, we figure we have to fix it. I think we are the generation most likely to look in the mirror if something is out of whack. Although Boomers will navel-gaze forever when there is a problem, Gen X'ers will just own up to the problem and try to fix it. Gen X and Millennials are both action oriented, but Gen X'ers take a much more personal view of what action is. The good news is that it will take all of us appealing to our higher selves to get out of this crisis intact. Or maybe that is the bad news 🙂

  4. My concern is that Millennials are far too interested in cool, hip, exciting technology rather than simply what will work best. And lately the stuff I've been reading suggests that perhaps the best way to go with the green movement is simply to use less and improve existing technologies so that they are more efficient. For example, light bulbs use only a small percentage of the power sent to them to illuminate. Most of it is wasted. What's sexy about creating a more efficient light bulb? Nothing. It's like trying to get people excited about infrastructure in places like Africa, which would go a long way to improve their situations, or even in this country for that matter. There's just no glitz to it, no pop and bang. Not to mention, Millennials seem to get bored of new technologies pretty quickly. Once the initial excitement wears of they are "so over it" and ready to move on to the "next new thing."

    A basic fundamental shift in personal attitudes is what is needed, and that may be the most difficult ting of all.

    1. @Lopez – I agree with you in many areas, but I must say your attitude reflects a Gen X bias (which I have as well). \”A shift in personal attitudes\” is very individualistic even though it is admirable. I take the same approach in my life, feeling that my personal choices are the most important thing to change. But Millennials think differently, and it shows in their attitudes. Hopefully their collectivism will combine with our pragmatism (we do have Gen X President) and we can get a good outcome. For now, I am doing just what you mention: shifting my personal attitude.

      On Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 8:18 AM, Dave Sohigian <> wrote:

  5. Isn't 1961 the cutoff between Boomers and Xers though? It seems to me like Obama could be both as with anybody born on the cusp between two generations.

    1. @Joemulk – Yes, but he acts so much more like an X'er than a Boomer. He often talks about getting away from the culture wars and political battles. He is very pragmatic and more interested in image than ideology. Those are all X'er traits. But, I do agree that people on the cusp can show characteristics of either generation.

  6. My mother was a nurse in a V.A. hospital, from 1988 until about 2004. When she started, I remember that she would often come home and complain about "those damn World War II vets and their unrealistic expectations." Being a teenager back then (I was 14 in 1988), I just filed it in the back of my mind and didn't pay any more attention to it.

    Then, about five years ago, when I started making a serious study of generational theory, all of this things she said about the G.I.'s (I refuse to call them "Greatest." If anybody deserves that title, it's the Gen-Lost generals and admirals who planned campaigns and ordered these grunts around) came back to my mind, comparing those "unrealistic expectations" to the equally, if not more, unrealistic behavior of Gen Y, and the dots started connecting themselves. If anything, this article reinforces that connection. (to be continued)

  7. (continued)
    The G.I.'s took credit for a war that Lost strategized and won, took credit for a society that the Lost built after the War, and then proceeded to place the stamp of their prejudices onto that construction (e.g., superficial standards of "prosperity," the McCarthy Commission, etc.). Moving this to the "Green" debate, Gen Y is already taking credit for technology that was invented by Xers (as Jen succinctly put it), and claim to be taking up a cause that was in the first place revived by Xers. They talk and usurp credit and make noise, while (as Jessie hit the nail on the head) they don't even bother to pick up their own trash.

    If history is destined to repeat itself with only minor variations on a major theme, then I stand by my comments elsewhere that I fear for the time when it's their turn to run the country.

    1. @Agostino – An insightful comment, indeed. Generation X (which is the
      the \”Nomad\” archetype like the Lost Generation, born 1883-1900) will
      end up in the shadow of Gen Y (and the Boomers for that matter). That
      is part of the cycle too: that Artist (like the Silents) and Nomads
      will never get the credit they deserve for their efforts. But I also
      think that is part of the nobility (however odd that name sounds for a
      Gen X'er) of our generation: we survive crappy conditions and do it
      without much expectation of anything else.

      I am reading \”Boomsday\” right now, which is a fun novel about a late
      X'er (or perhaps early Millennial) leading a revolt against the
      Boomers. It's entertaining, but the reality is that X'ers won't bother
      with a revolution. We'll just do whatever is necessary to get through
      it, however dirty or ignoble the job. The victors write the history
      books, and you can bet that Gen X won't be the victors in this one.

  8. I am a Gen Y child. I think you are being overly negative. The next generation wont have time to be so shallow with the way the worlds heading. Also you compared us to the G.I. generation. The G.I. generation were devoted, hard working and never let "that ca't be done" get in the way. I think kids today are so fed up with whats been placed on our shoulders by their parents and grandparents that we will fix it the way it should be done. We take the earth from your hands and will gladely restore it. The crisis we face is different from all other. it is not something that can be easily disarmed (like a bomb or nuclear weapon).
    You also forgot to take into account Gen Y has most the problems the past generations had because no one has fixed them yet. The big thing about my generation is we hate fakeness and we wont be.

    1. @Rachel – I agree there are many problems today, but they can all be solved by group action. That is where Millennial's training will be helpful. And I agree that the crisis this time around is different and that fighting a war won't solve much (but that does not mean that we won't fight a war anyway). I am an optimist about what will occur in the next ten years, but I am also pragmatic. It won't be easy or fun, but I am confident that we will have a successful 4th Turning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.