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By Annie Wiesenfeld
Op-ed submission: The headlines are wrong: Millennials do care about the environment
I'm 16 years old, and today I'll be ditching school. Not to go shopping or see The Hunger Games, but to be in Sacramento for the fifth annual Ocean Day to talk with state lawmakers about the importance of ocean protection and conservation. I'll be joined by students from around the state who understand that we will inherit today's resource management decisions.
This month, I was surprised to learn that millennials - what they're calling my generation - are supposedly not interested in the environment. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology said that young Americans are less interested in conserving resources, and less civic-minded in general, than previous generations.
The study made headlines all over the country, with many stories quoting lead author Jean Twenge on "generational trends toward more political disengagement, less environmental concern and more materialistic values."
I find the exact opposite to be true. My friends and I are more worried than we should be because of what past generations have left behind and the damage they've done to our environment, our wildlife, and our oceans. We feel it is our responsibility to fix the problem.
I freak out at my Dad when he leaves the water or gas running. My friends and I ride our bikes instead of drive cars, and turning off lights that aren't needed is second nature. Through Team Marine, a group of eco-minded students at Santa Monica High, we're converting a VW Beetle to electric, because we know all too well that oil reserves aren't always going to be reliable.
We're not alone. You need only to look at the 2008 election -the second-largest youth voter turnout in history-or at youth participation in events like Sacramento Ocean Day and International Coastal Clean-up Day to see that young people are willing to show up to make a difference. In the case of Team Marine, we dedicated weekends to beach cleanups, collecting a thousand cigarette butts from the Santa Monica beach in one day alone. We even created an art collage of the pier with cigarette butts and styrofoam, and wrote our theme, "Rethink" underneath.
Young people have also been active in California's multi-year planning process for the Marine Life Protection Act, which is creating a system of underwater parks off our coast. One Mendocino high school class spent weekends gathering information so they could submit a proposal to the state for protection of local coastal hotspots. And students involved in the LiMPETS program are helping to collect data on the marine protected areas as well so California can make even better informed decisions going forward.
For me, saving the ocean is personal. I'm aware, as I've been for most my life, that the single, minute choices we make can easily define the future for the environment and its inhabitants. When I was ten years old, I was involved in a survey of local stores on how many plastic bags they gave out and how many people used cloth bags, because I'd seen those bags everywhere in trees, and on the beach, and thought it could be one thing we could change. When the Santa Monica plastic bag ban was passed, I was thrilled to see something finally being done.
I'm going to Sacramento because I want to know how we can make politics and the environment work to protect our valuable resources. I got a taste of that this January at a Los Angeles city council meeting, when I represented 1600 students calling for a plastic bag ban. When I meet with lawmakers on Monday, here's what I'm going to tell them: We have to all be on the same page when it comes to conservation for the future, because we can't go on any longer if we cannot agree on a common goal. It's our obligation to protect the seals and dolphins and tuna alike, because we are all interconnected.Annie Wiesenfeld is a student and member of Team Marine, Santa Monica High School's ocean focused eco-club, which has been active since 2007
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