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What the Keystone Pipeline Means to Millennials

02/26/2015 10:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015
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A Presidential Veto is a momentous event, and President Obama has only chosen to exercise this power three times. That being said, the President's recent veto of the Keystone Pipeline Bill was a subdued affair, operating in stark contrast to the mock signing ceremony held by the Republicans weeks ago. The Keystone Pipeline, still popular among Americans though decreasingly so, has become a politicized lightning rod simultaneously illustrating progress and obstructionism, environmentalism and energy independence, left and right. The pipeline seems to address everyone on a different level, but this is what I hear: the President is speaking the Millennial's language.

Obama speaking our language doesn't necessarily mean iMessages full of emojis, though his recent experiment with a "selfie-stick" suggests that it may not be far behind; instead we are seeing an Executive that is acting on our issues. For all that we have left to do, Millennials have become the "labeled" generation.

We are the "9/11 Generation," raised in a period of national uncertainty and two simultaneous land wars in Asia. Even we see ourselves as the "lazy generation," despite our goals and ambitions. Other nicknames for our cohort include: We Generation, Generation Net, and the Global Generation.

With all of these nicknames in tow, Millennials find ourselves at an interesting crossroads. We are about to become the most populous generation in the nation, yet as our oldest approach their mid-30's, descriptive representation in government is hard to find. So while our voices often fall on often-deaf ears, let's move past what we may be and talk about what we are.

We are indebted; four in ten households headed by an adult younger than 40 have some student debt, with the median amount being about $13,000. Many of us entered the workforce at a time of economic crisis or recovery while holding more debt and less wealth than our parents. Even still, we are hearing from Governors who want to deeply cut spending on public education.

We are sensible; we may not be the "Sandy Hook" generation, but we have watched gun violence infiltrate the schools of our younger brothers and sisters and 83 percent of us favor background checks before anyone can purchase a firearm. Yet in April of 2013 we watched the Senate vote down a proposal for near-universal background checks.

And finally, we are conscious; two-thirds of Millennials believe that the earth is warming, and 75 percent of those believe that human activity is causing it. We are the generation that has seen and understood the connection between superstorms like Katrina and Sandy and global warming. We are the generation that will be forced to confront oceans that are warmer and higher, droughts that are longer and more intense, and other yet to be seen effects of climate change. We are the generation that must move past pipelines and fossil fuels. On this topic, we have a President that is stepping up.

According to a 2014 study by Harstad, student debt, gun control, and clean energy are among the issues that Millennials find most persuasive. These issues are more likely than any other to get us to the polls and voting for particular candidates. When candidates talk about issues like healthcare and gridlock, we tune out. When candidates talk about background checks, reducing the cost of education, and increasing renewable energy, we pay attention; this fall there wasn't much to listen to.

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The veto of the Keystone Pipeline is about more than special interests and partisan politics, it is a promise to the younger generation that the government is done mortgaging our future. Fossil fuels are the energy solutions of the past, and for all that we are we will not be another pipeline generation. The President once again has chosen to listen to us instead of simply labeling us, following a strategy similar to that which got him elected president, twice.

For all of our labels, us Millennials still have most of our lives ahead of us. Our legacy is not set in stone, and who knows what they will be calling us when we are beginning to depart this planet we are so desperate to defend. The rejection of the Keystone Pipeline is a marching order to a new direction for our generation. We must be the ones who perfect solar technology and better batteries, who enact policies to promote wind and solar, and who discover cutting edge technology to carry us into a cleaner, brighter future. Most politicians may refuse to speak our language now, but soon we will be most politicians. Who knows, maybe by 2050 we will come to be known as "The Renewable Generation."