Essays and oil: a challenge for the millennial generation

By Jennifer Good – The Brock Press

Millennials.  This has become the title for those of you born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s, but I’m wondering how you would feel if we called you the oil generation instead.

Of course I get the whole millennial thing.  “Millennial” does flow well off the tonguOpinionpg14e and it is an apt descriptor for your generation – born to embrace a new millennium.  But the oil generation is a much better way of alluding to the incredibly complex, revolutionary, and important age into which you have been born and will live out your lives.

Every generation has its complexities.  When I was an undergraduate student in the ‘80s there was the Cold War with the very real threat of the Soviet Union or United States using their nuclear stockpiles to annihilate one another (and the rest of us).  A not-so-cold war was a reality for my parents when they were at university in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.  But that’s just it.  The past couple of generations’ coming of age realities were visceral. War is tangible. War is bad.  Nuclear war is really bad.

The oil-age in which you live is in many ways much more complicated.  For one thing, when it comes to war it’s easy to see the links between a relatively small group’s decisions and actions and the resulting death and devastation.  And when people want war to end they can chant “beat your swords into ploughshares” – and we can envision turning weapons into useful, peaceful, tools.  But how to fight oil? Oil forms the foundations of our modern society: in all its glory and goriness.  There’s nothing we could chant if we want oil to end, right? The death and devastation being caused by climate change can’t be linked to the actions of a small group, right? Oil is too big for us to play a significant role in its end, right?

Wrong.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben has been thinking and writing about climate change for decades.  In a recent Rolling Stone article he launched the following concept: target and vilify the oil industry.  After all, “These companies don’t simply exist in a world whose hunger they fulfill – they help create the boundaries of that world.”

McKibben encourages us to turn our climate change attention and moral outrage their way.  The example he draws on when moral outrage worked to change the world? The anti-apartheid movement.  The people, around the world, who led the way? Students.

Students demanded that their universities and colleges divest from companies doing business in South Africa.  “155 campuses eventually divested” McKibben writes, “and by the end of the [1980s] more than 80 cities, 25 states and 19 countries had taken some form of binding economic action against companies connected to the apartheid regime.”

Over the next eight months you will be given many opportunities to think critically and creatively about the world.  Yes, you’ll sit in classes that bore you.  You’ll read endless articles and write exhausting essays.  You’ll stay up all night cramming for exams.  But you’ll also have a chance to pause and ponder about the oil generation of which you are a part of.  If that pondering makes you think that you’d like to help your generation become one that is remembered for its role in bringing about the end of oil, I encourage you to check out McKibben’s organization 350.org.

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Jennifer Good is an associate professor of communication, popular culture and film.

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