A New Generation of Change-Makers

04/27/2015 07:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

Young people are currently living in a world of infinite wonder. With the rapid advancement and proliferation of technology across all sectors of life, from health to productivity, there seems to be no limit to this endless evolution. As the confines of the human mind continue to be tested and stretched into infinity, we seem to have found comfort in our ability to confront and overcome obstacles we face as a species. In this new era of hope and progress, we have found ourselves facing a new and novel challenge that we have not yet experienced: climate change. The question then becomes, how do we fix this?

The past conversations surrounding climate change have been focused too much on whether it is anthropogenic or natural. While the evidence is clear on its human origin, the reality is that our climate is changing and that we need to act in response to these shifting conditions. Even my own state of Nebraska is not exempt from the impacts of climate change. A report published in 2014 by the University of Nebraska shared that the state experienced an overall warming of about 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1895, and the projected temperature changes will range from an increase of 4-5 degrees or 8-9 degrees, depending on the emission scenarios, by the last quarter of the 21st century. Changes in precipitation from climate change will "impact runoff and groundwater recharge, affect the types of crops that can be grown, influence water pollution, alter the occurrence of flooding and drought, and determine the type and health of ecosystems." We are also warned that "changes in the observed frequency and intensity of extreme events are of serious concern today and for the future because of the economic, social and environmental costs associated with responding to, recovering from, and preparing for these extreme events in the near and longer term."

Here in Nebraska, both the young and older generations are working to promote sustainability in diverse ways. The City of Lincoln has recently received a $600,000 federal grant, through the Nebraska Department of Roads, to start a bike sharing program. This program began as an initiative led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, Reed Broderson, before it was handed over to the City. To the northeast corner of the state, the City of Tilden recently received a $3.6 million grant from USDA Rural Development for its water and waste water systems, which will introduce the installation of water meters. These water meters will help users monitor their usage in order to save and conserve. Despite its strong dedication to sustainability, Nebraska has a long way to go. For instance, while Nebraska has the 4th largest wind resources in the country, it does not rank in the top 20 for wind energy production. Nonetheless, Nebraska was expected to triple its wind energy potential in 2015, so slowly but surely, the state will improve.

As a global collective, young people are placed in a peculiar and difficult position. Young people have both special concerns and responsibilities as it relates to the longevity of this planet, one that is currently being tested by climate change. Like all previous generations, they are going to be tasked with the monumental challenge of overcoming the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, as well as the current and continuing industrial and land use trends. Climate change is no longer a myth or conspiracy, but a cruel reality which we must now face. My generation and future generations will have to live longer with the consequences of current patterns and be subject to their impacts. Nonetheless, we must never forsake our potential to improve and change the world, and we can do this by first changing ourselves and our habits.

From my experience, the keys to solving sustainability issues are accountability and ownership. While the depth of the current problem was caused by previous generations, it does not mean that my generation and those of the future are completely free of blame. This new era of instant gratification has led to high consumption patterns, fueled by desire to get the latest brand products or technology. That being said, young people have a two-front battle. They must first work collectively to fix problems of the past, as well as of their own habits. Only by starting early can the youth population create a culture of conscientiousness and respect for the earth. We need a new generation of everyday change-makers, and we need them now.

This blog post is part of the 'It's Our Earth (Day)' blog series, curated by the editors of HuffPost Generation Change in recognition of Earth Day 2015. We've invited young environmental bloggers to share how climate issues are affecting their lives and futures, and why it's so important for youth to take climate action. To see all the other posts in the series, click here.