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The Climate Change Generation Gap

Blake McCord
Millennial activists at Uplift gathering.

Do young people care more about climate change than old people? That’s part of the premise of a new outreach effort by the Grand Canyon Trust. 

Back in 2014, the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Trust launched an experimental new program called “Uplift.” The idea is to create a regional conservation movement specifically aimed at young people.

“We have been to Prescott, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Durango so far.”

And now Moab, where recently Uplift presided over an evening of collaboration among local activists and wannabe activists. Claire Martini is Uplift’s coordinator. She was accompanied by volunteer organizers Brooke Larsen and Montana Johnson.   

Credit Michael Remke
Claire Martini, Moab Uplift’s coordinator, at Uplift Planning Retreat.

  Martini explained,“We’re really concerned about the watershed of the Colorado River, and these kind of upper parts that are incredibly beautiful, and also incredibly threatened. Climate change is this terrifying issue that doesn’t seem to present any easy opportunities to fix anything, and so we’re looking at how story telling can maybe be a tie that connects us, and spurs people to action. I mean, I think across the region climate change is this existential crisis almost, for young people.”

Uplift is targeting people aged 18 to thirty-something. About 20 mostly millennials gathered in the Moab Library.

“I’m here because I think that climate change is one of the most stressful things that I’m being given (laughs), as a young person, that I’m inheriting, and I think it’s up to our generation to try to figure it out.”

“Like climate change is happening, and we’ve seen it in hurricanes and droughts all over the world, and so how do we build a community strong enough to move through the effect of all this change.”

“This is a human story, like you said before, climate change, and it’s a cultural issue, and I think, when I look at what I can do, I want to create more doubt, and I want people to open that space, to deconstruct the things as the way they are. Whether we’re talking about institutions, or watering our lawn.”

“It’s such a big issue and like it’s such a big tent, and it’s so gigantic, and you know like, I want my little nephew to see a polar bear when he’s older, you know. I want like, yeah, I hope that it’s all not already doomed. I want faith that the world will still be livable and a good place in a hundred years.”

One major theme emerged: Moab’s young people don’t put a lot of stock in local politics. A baby boomer in the room lamented that you don’t see enough young people at council meetings.

“The young people ought to care more than the old people. You have longer to live here. You know, you have longer to live in this destroyed world. And, I don’t know, maybe that’s the frustration that old people feel, that why, aren’t young people angrier?”

The response was overwhelming from the millennial.

Credit Montana Johnson
Uplift meeting.

  “It’s not the young people who have the power to say this is over. It’s the older folks who are not jumping on board. I don’t think we’re not angry. I think it’s just like, we don’t know how to make angry work.”

“The older generation needs to start being creative and listening. And it doesn’t mean that all like young people have to be active in county politics. It means that county politics should be in tune with how young people are being active, which is through art and creativity and alternative and permaculture.”

“Part of the reason why our generation seems less politically active is, we do look for solutions outside the political arena a lot. There’s a lot of different avenues.”

Sarah Stocks is a prominent activist with Moab-based Canyon Country Rising Tide, a key group in the tar sands protests.

“And I think that young people see the problem in a bigger way than the older generations. I mean I go to the meetings, when they’re relevant, and then a bunch of effort happens, and then it’s all like, the system is still in place. Right? And if we keep wasting our effort as a community on these like, really traditional public processes that are absolutely failing, because the corporations are controlling the state regulations, and the money that’s in it

Uplift’s second annual gathering of regional climate activists will take place near Durango, from August 18th to 20th

Originally from Wyoming, Jon Kovash has practiced journalism throughout the intermountain west. He was editor of the student paper at Denver’s Metropolitan College and an early editor at the Aspen Daily News. He served as KOTO/Telluride’s news director for fifteen years, during which time he developed and produced Thin Air, an award-winning regional radio news magazine that ran on 20 community stations in the Four Corners states. In Utah his reports have been featured on KUER/SLC and KZMU/Moab. Kovash is a senior correspondent for Mountain Gazette and plays alto sax in “Moab’s largest garage band."