The Next Seven Generations

A Teen Perspective on Environmental Issues

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation…”

-Inspired by the Great Law of the Iroquois

The world is full of adults. But once upon a time, all of those adults were teenagers. We have all lived in that crazy space between childhood and adulthood, where you are expected to be independent enough to make your own decisions but are still limited by the rules of society, parents, and social norms.

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? I have memories of wanting to learn everything about what life had to offer. I felt like I could do anything, and that the possibilities were endless for my future. I also remember feeling like I was being held back by my parents, by society, and by my peers. I couldn’t wait to become an adult and have my freedom.  

As I have grown older, I have learned that the freedom of adulthood can come with a price. I have been disappointed, rejected, and surprised, and all of those things have affected my cumulative outlook on life. Like many adults, I have taken on more of the weight of the world and lost some of the starry-eyed wonder of my youth.  

As disconnected as we become from our teenage years, we are even more disconnected from the life that will be experienced on this planet in seven generations.

Over the last few decades, the earth has been inundated with more and more environmental crises. Habitat destruction, global climate change, water pollution, oil spills, species loss…it doesn’t seem to end. And what’s more interesting is that the environmental degradation on our planet has exponentially grown since the industrial revolution less than 300 years ago. That's much shorter than seven generations ago.

Learning about all of these environmental issues can be very discouraging. I often wonder how teens these days are coping with this information and what they think about the earth that they will soon inherit.

I separately asked 16 teenagers, between the ages of 14 and 19, this question:

“What is the most important thing that people can do to help the earth?”

Here are their unprompted answers. Some were expected, some surprising, and all were inspirational.

Danny, Age 14: “People just need to care…”

Walker, Age 17: “Reduce usage of essential resources.”     

Sara, Age 14: “The most important thing is for people to learn about what they can do to help, and try their best to appreciate nature and help.”

Poet Julian, Age 17: “To be open-minded is the cure, the disease is ignorance. People may say that ignorance is bliss, but alas, ‘tis not, ‘tis a spreading cancer.”

Chantal, 19: “I think the most important thing people can do to help the earth is to spread awareness. I think one of the biggest issues is that no one really knows about many of the environmental issues and therefore people aren't able to act upon them. People tend to step up and react when things get personal.”

Eli, Age 15: “Find alternative energy sources to use instead of burning fossil fuels.”

Sarah, Age 14: “Carpool to save gas and walk or bike places to prevent pollution.”

Alexia, Age 18: “Keep the oceans clean by disposing of waste properly and stop building over the woods to protect wildlife.”

Jake, Age 15: “Learn and educate others about the problems. Once we understand and talk about the problems more people will want to do something about it and won’t need to be told how.”

Jeremy, Age 16:  “Educate people and alert them to the seriousness of the problem.”

Justin, Age 17: “People have to educate others about the problem.”

Ethan, Age 15: “Support carpooling!”

Eamon, Age 15: “People should focus on living in a more individual society instead of being part of a massive, consuming, corporate environmental destroyer.”

Shaun, Age 15: “More use of wind energy.”

Alex, Age 16: “I think the most important thing is to recognize that the earth isn’t our toy to mess around with, it’s our home, and we need to utilize it correctly. Humans need to see that the earth is very rapidly becoming in a bad way because of us.”

Max, Age 19: “I think that the most important thing that people can do for
the environment is think about our actions. Our earth is fragile, not because it wants to be, but because we made it that way over time. We need to really take into consideration what is really best for the earth at this moment in time.”

I learned from this group of teens that even they, who will soon inherit all of the earth’s problems, believe that there are solutions. And the solutions seem to lie largely in people’s connections with each other. This type of optimism is refreshing and so vital in this time in history where social, political, economic, and cultural divides still separate us. I have great hope for the future, but am reminded that our responsibility still lies in our choices today. Today is the only day we can control, and the only moment is now.


How would you answer the question: 

“What is the most important thing that people can do to help the earth?”

Tell us in the comments. 

Don Pachner June 07, 2012 at 11:29 AM
After winning the John Boroughs award for environmental writing in 1952 for her nonfiction writings about the oceans, the brilliant biologist Rachel Carson told a group of female journalists: ""I myself am convinced that there has never been a greater need than there is today for the reporter and interpreter of the natural world. Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world. For this unhappy trend there is no single remedy - no panacea. But I believe that the more clearly we can focus on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for its destruction"
Lisa Buchman June 07, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Thank you Don, for that inspirational start to the day! And to Beth - I look forward to Nature Notes and appreciate this week's young voices. Any other teens out there who want to add their thoughts?
Beth Rhines June 07, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Thanks, Don. Rachel Carson is a big hero of mine, thats a good quote.
Kelly Prelogre-Mt.Kisco,contractor's wife June 07, 2012 at 06:55 PM
MT KISCO MAYOR CINDRICH really should not be involved in safeguarding mt kisco's water supply-byram lake-he is badly misinformed about significant facts regarding the direction in which runoff flows towards the lake and about the deadly consequences of lawn pesticides. Bedford 2020 recently had a presentation by a nephrologist on pesticides in which it was made abundantly clear that pesticides must be banned because they are ruining the health of every human being and animal on the planet! If he would get out of the office, and take a hike around the watershed he would see how water really flows. These school children would be able to show him more and with great honesty. They would be able to do a much better job protecting public water supplies than our current, elected politicians! We need a new generation of of leaders with integrity. These students are better connected to the Earth!


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