Climate change is described as a “generational battle,” in which young people care and older people don’t. But this is a perfect example of how we think about generations all wrong — and that has big consequences. If we can drop our assumptions about generational divides, we might just have a shot at solving some of the world’s most urgent problems.
Jason Feifer: This is Build For Tomorrow, a podcast about the smartest solutions to our most misunderstood problems. I'm Jason Feifer and in each episode, I take something that seems concerning or confusing today and figure out where it came from, what important things we're missing, and how we can create more opportunity tomorrow.
Jason Feifer: If you had to guess, who would you say cares more about climate change? Is it young people or old people? This may sound like a stupid question because obviously the answer is young people, right? That's what everybody says. It's why when Time magazine named Greta Thunberg the Person of the Year in 2019, they wrote that Greta is "A standard bearer in a generational battle, an avatar of youth activists across the globe." And just consider the weight of those words, "A generational battle." Like a war between the young who want to fix this urgent problem and the old who are standing in their way. Greta says it herself.
Voice Clip (Greta Thunberg): You can see that among young people, the concern is bigger.
Jason Feifer: And here's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Voice Clip (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez): It would be remiss if we didn't mention, I think, of the generational dynamic that this challenge represents.
Jason Feifer: And here's how the bigger clash was described on CBS News.
Voice Clip (CBS): I've seen a lot of younger people, maybe they're millennials, some are even Gen-Z saying, "Look. The world that we are inheriting is such a disaster and that is because of baby boomers. And they're still holding onto power, they won't let us make changes."
Jason Feifer: So you hear enough of this and it stops even feeling like a question. Gen-Z and millennials, they want to stop climate change, and Baby boomers, they don't. And we're not just talking about government and corporate leaders here who are indeed generally older and incentivized towards the status quo. No. These are claims made about everyone, broad general statements about broad general populations. And that can make climate change feel even more frustrating and alarming because you might feel like, "Hey. Climate change isn't some giant and complex problem. It is totally solvable if only these damn old people would get out of the way." But...
Bobby Duffy: The problem with that framing is when you look at the data now, there's hardly any gap between old and young, and their climate concern.
Jason Feifer: This is Bobby Duffy, a professor of Public Policy and director of the Policy Institute at Kings College London. He looked deep into this issue and parsed the data from the US General Social Survey, and found something striking. When you look at the percentage of US adults that are alarmed about climate change, younger generations, Gen-X and Baby boomers, all rank roughly the same. They're just a few percentage points away from each other. And there's more.
Bobby Duffy: When you look at different measures about what people are doing on broader social purpose activities, it's actually older generations who are more likely to be boycotting products or services that are socially irresponsible in different ways.
Jason Feifer: Bobby has been working in public policy for nearly 30 years, which I guess probably makes him old in the eyes of some young people. But more importantly, it is long enough for him to see how false public narratives can have very real impact.
Bobby Duffy: You think of all the causes that we've got, the one that we need to be united around is climate change because it can take an enormous effort across everyone, really. But we're dividing people on it based on a false understanding of the data, so this has real implications.
Jason Feifer: And if you are a younger or older person who wants to help craft meaningful solutions to this problem, then you need to take this particular fact seriously. Here, for example, are three problems that Bobby says can be caused by this generational battle. Number one...
Bobby Duffy: It kicks the can down the road.
Jason Feifer: Which is to say that if everyone believes that Baby boomers are the problem and that young people are the solution, well then the answer to climate change is simply to wait, to say, "Ah. Well, there's nothing we can do right now, but let's just wait until young people finally replace the Baby boomers in places of leadership. And then everything will be solved." But that is not productive for obvious reasons, so what's next?
Bobby Duffy: The second risk is that the older group get turned off by that and start to believe it themselves or get annoyed by it, and don't do as much as they can.
Jason Feifer: Which makes sense. If you are of one generation and everyone keeps talking about how terrible you are, well yeah, maybe you're not so motivated to partner up with your haters on something, even if you both agree on it, which leads us to implication number three.
Bobby Duffy: If you look at climate campaign and communications, there's a big gap in having messages that are tailored to fit with that older people's well of concern. There's not really that targeting going on.
Jason Feifer: Imagine, the untold millions of people who could be engaged on this issue but aren't, simply because of the broad assumption that they don't care. That is a lot of wasted opportunity. Now, whenever I look at a problem, here is a question I love asking, "What kind of problem is this?" Because the answer may not be obvious, if you have a business and your client base isn't growing, you can't fix it without understanding what kind of problem you have. Is it a product problem? A marketing problem? A consumer education problem?
Jason Feifer: And when we look at why multiple generations are not coming together to address climate change, Bobby says we are not actually looking at a generational problem. We are looking, he says, at a generational thinking problem. Generational thinking, it is the method by which we give a name to all people who were born around roughly at the same time, like Baby boomers or Gen-X or millennials or whatever, and then assign them traits as if they are a monolith.
Bobby Duffy: Generational thinking is a really big idea that has been horribly corrupted and undermined by terrible stereotypes, cliches and myths.
Jason Feifer: That's not to say it's entirely bad or useless. Generational thinking can actually be pretty useful, but we have to be smarter about it. And Bobby has a plan for how to do that, a framework through which to understand how people go through change and how they are shaped, and how to understand them, and how once you do, you can have far more productive conversations about things like climate change, but also so much more.
Jason Feifer: On this episode of Build For Tomorrow, here's what we're going to explore. We're taking apart the myth of the generational war and asking, "How can we understand each other better? And how can that help us solve our toughest problems, climate change included?" It's all coming up after the break.
Jason Feifer: All right. We're back. Here is our problem. We group people by generations, and in doing so, we often create stereotypes about these generations, that the older generation is out of touch and that the younger generation is stupid and lazy. You've heard it all before, but have you ever stopped to wonder why we do this? Where does that idea even come from? And is there a better way to understand the differences between generations? Should we actually even use that word, "Generations?" To answer this, we should start at the beginning. Let's back way up to the 4th Century BC when Aristotle said this...
Voice Clip (Fox and Friends): Oh, the millennials don't get off the couch very often.
Jason Feifer: Oh, sorry about that. That was Fox and friends who also don't get off the couch very often. Anyway, here's what Aristotle wrote. He said, the young people of Greece "Think they know everything and are always quite sure about it", which, funny enough, I guess also sounds like Fox and friends. But here's the thing, Aristotle didn't invent youth bashing. He's just one of the earlier examples that we have of it, because this tradition of shaking our heads at foolish young people is probably as old as civilization itself. It goes back many thousands of years. And in fact, I have already explored why it keeps happening on another episode of this podcast, which was called "There's Nothing Wrong With Kids These Days." Go take a listen.
Jason Feifer: But right now, we're talking about something different. Because even though people were complaining about the kids these days back in ancient Greece, they weren't actually identifying and naming specific generations the way that we do today. That is actually quite new. For the past few hundred years, the idea of a generation was pretty limited. Artists and artistic movements were sometimes identified as being of a generation. In 1863, a French lexicographer defined a generation as "All men living more or less in the same time." But in the Western world, and in France in particular, things changed in the beginning of the 1910's. Books and articles were focused on a new crop of young intellectuals who were eager to make their mark, but then the great war began. Much of Europe started to call that crop of young people, the generation of 1914, and America started to call them the Lost generation. These were people who either died in the war or survived and lived a directionless life.
Jason Feifer: Either way, the war was their defining characteristic and this was the first named generation in the Western world. Everything after that, from the Silent generation to the Baby boomers to Gen-Z was following in this model. And as a result, right at the beginning, the concept of a generation was intertwined with generational conflict, which in the case of the Lost generation was defined by their feelings about who sent them to war.
Bobby Duffy: That sense of a younger generation sacrificed by an older generation and the huge resentments and conflict that created between those different cohorts of people.
Jason Feifer: But of course, the war wasn't the only major event at the time. The turn of the century was a time of fast industrialization. And that got sociologists and other thinkers at the time wondering about the forces that shape people, which has a logic to it, Bobby says...
Bobby Duffy: Humans like to categorize people quite simply into things they are and things they're not, and what group we are in and what group other people are in. That's quite a deep human characteristic.
Jason Feifer: And to be clear, there were plenty of differences to speak of. A young person born in an urbanized America will have very different expectations from their grandparents who were born on a farm. But there was a problem here and that problem is contained in the title of Bobby Duffy's book, which is the reason I called him in the first place.
Bobby Duffy: The book is called, "The Generation Myth: Why When You're Born Matters Less Than You Think."
Jason Feifer: Because Bobby says, "Look, there actually are plenty of important ways in which you are shaped by the time you were born into." And we'll talk about them all in a minute, but immediately after the concept of a generation was introduced in the early 1900's, Bobby says it became misunderstood, it was used less as a way of understanding changes in populations and used more as a way to explain changes that people don't like.
Bobby Duffy: We have this tendency to want to identify a single, simple solution to any problem or one particular group or characteristic to blame for a particular bad outcome. And it's understandable, we are busy getting on with our lives, and these short hands are very helpful in helping us cope with that complexity. But more often than not it leads us astray, because the world is complex and there's lots of parts interacting, and simple solutions are almost always wrong.
Jason Feifer: Why were these ideas so sticky even as they were so incorrect? And for that matter, so obviously incorrect. Bobby says it's because these generational stereotypes had something important going for them. They were sellable.
Bobby Duffy: There's money to be made in terms of exaggerating difference and to give a sense of a problem that you can create a solution to.
Jason Feifer: And what does that even mean? Who could make money off of generational conflict? Well...
Voice Clip (Fox and Friends): Oh, the millennials don't get off the couch very often.
Jason Feifer: Yeah. Sure. There's Fox and friends, and every other media outlet that runs stories about generational differences because their audiences click or tune in, but we can't just blame modern media for this. You can find these stories in newspapers going back for decades and centuries. Like this one from 1933 headlined, "Is modern youth a dim bulb?" Which said...
Karla Vermeulen: They're never self starters like the kids were when I was a boy. They lead synthetic lives.
Jason Feifer: Which then just gets repackaged by the next generation of people looking to sell something. And then the next until every generation sounds nearly identical in the way that 1933 newspaper story sounds a whole lot like self-help author, Simon Sinek, today.
Voice Clip (Simon Sinek): The best case scenario is you'll have an entire population growing up and going through life, and just never really finding joy.
Jason Feifer: The best case scenario, he says. The best case scenario is an entire generation never finding joy? Simon, why would you say such a thing like that when it is so easily disproven? An entire generation? But whatever, right? Because Simon has books to sell just like there are endless consultants who specialize in how to reach your market to or work with or manage, each young generation whose very existence is premised on how different and potentially incompatible each generation is from the next. And I guess... Hey, you can also buy a $2,000 ouija board on Goop. Who am I to judge how people spend their money? But this stuff with the generations is different, because it is not just a matter of money. It has consequences. For example...
Andy Revkin: I was hearing these narratives about young people being snowflakes and entitled, and weak and selfish, and all these terrible things that just so was not reflected in the students that I was working with, and the young people I know in my own life.
Jason Feifer: This is Karla Vermeulen, an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and author of the book, "Generation Disaster: Coming of Age Post 9/11."
Andy Revkin: And so I really wanted to look into this and try and understand the world from their perspective.
Jason Feifer: And here's one of the things she did, Karla conducted a thousand person national survey of people who were 18 to 29 years old at the time of the survey, which means that they were born between 1990 and 2002. The survey was balanced by gender representative of the US population in terms of race and ethnicity and other factors, and it asked these young people...
Andy Revkin: Using one word, describe how others most commonly describe your generation.
Jason Feifer: The number one answer by far was the word, "Lazy." And here were the other top answers in descending order.
Andy Revkin: Entitled, stupid, selfish, dumb, crazy, lost, ignorant, spoiled, bad, sensitive, snowflake, annoying and f'ed.
Jason Feifer: Wait, was it actually, "f'ed" in there?
Andy Revkin: No. They said, "Fucked."
Jason Feifer: Let us be clear, in the name of science, they said fucked. And there were some more words after that too, careless, horrible, doomed, weak and weird. Which is depressing, but also not surprising. Now, here is the surprising part, as a follow-up, Karla's survey asked this, "How accurate do you believe that description is?" In other words, if you said that your generation is most commonly described as lazy, is that an accurate description of your generation? And the response to that? 41% of young people said it was not accurate, 19% were neutral, and 40% said the negative description about their own generation was indeed correct.
Andy Revkin: So not only are they getting these messages from older people, but a lot of them clearly have internalized them and believe that it's true about their entire generation. And that can't be a positive thing.
Jason Feifer: No, it cannot. And this astonished Karla, because here you have a generation that is so ambitious and creative and entrepreneurial, but they are not always giving themselves credit for it.
Andy Revkin: And they're certainly not getting credit for it from the older generations. And then I think one of the consequences that is so problematic and so troubling is getting those negative messages, particularly from baby boomers, then fuels animosity going in the other direction. There's just so much hostility of the young towards the older group. And that includes perceptions, not just that they're nasty and don't understand, we the young people's lives, but also that they are somehow actively trying to block young people from being able to move up.
Jason Feifer: And so we get our generational battle and our false divides. It's not necessarily because there is an actual generational battle, but rather it's because we have spent so much time talking about a generational battle that it has created something of a generational battle. And the impact of this is very real, both internally and externally. Quickly to touch upon them both, what Karla's study revealed was an entire generation believing something about themselves that is not true. And there is an actual term for that. Here's Bobby again.
Bobby Duffy: There's a broader concept called, "Pluralistic ignorance" where you think you have an image of what the norm is for your group, but it's wrong. And it's shown that that can be really powerful in your own behavior. This was studied in terms of the drinking cultures at US colleges, where everyone thought that everyone else was loving the drinking cultures. Everyone kept going with it when actually when you broke it down and spoke to people separately about it, actually loads of people weren't enjoying it either, but they just felt they had to keep going.
Jason Feifer: And then there's the external impact. How do people outside a generation treat people inside the generation? We already talked a bit about how that impacts our understanding of climate change, and we'll get back to that in a few minutes. But just to look at the impact on a totally different issue, let's take a look at what happens in the workplace. Okay, here is a clip from the show Good Morning Britain, during a segment called "Are Millennials Bad Workers?"
Voice Clip (Good Morning Britan): They've been wrapped in cotton wool. They think the world owes them a living. They think just by turning up, it's just going to be... They don't understand the concept of hard work-
Jason Feifer: And this lady isn't saying anything new. It's a feeling that was echoed throughout the business world and was driven in part by a belief that young workers have no sense of loyalty, are not dedicated to their jobs, and simply won't stick around long.
Bobby Duffy: That's just a misreading of the data because young people always turn over jobs quicker than older people. And actually, when you look at the long trends back to the 1980's and before, it's actually older people that are moving jobs more quickly to date than older people did in the past. And young people's speed of turnover in jobs is actually not changed very much.
Jason Feifer: But if bosses think that there's something wrong with their younger team members, and that these people are more likely to leave quickly or otherwise not engaged deeply in the work, well...
Bobby Duffy: It can decrease that engagement between leaders and younger employees, because if you come with that mindset of, "Yeah, we've got an excuse to make it the generation's fault. Their problem, not our problem." And that's the big risk from an organization's point of view when they start to externalize this as an issue, and not see it as something that they can do anything about.
Jason Feifer: Managers won't invest in young people because they believe young people are bad workers. And then because the young people are not invested in, they very will maybe become bad workers. And then each side resents the other. Once again, the perception of a problem actually creates the problem. Is there a better way to do this, to look at a broad population of people and understand what makes them different? Bobby Duffy says yes, there is a better way. It's not actually that complicated. Instead of organizing people in one way by sorting them into generations based on the year they were born, we need to look at them in three ways.
Bobby Duffy: Three effects that explain all types of change, all the change we see in society and as individuals.
Jason Feifer: That's a big claim. Let's see if he can live up to it. What are these three effects? The first is called, "Period effects."
Bobby Duffy: Where something happens and everyone is affected to some degree. And that's usually big things like pandemic, we've all been affected by the pandemic or a financial crisis in some way.
Jason Feifer: But this can also be more subtle, slow moving shifts like changing cultural norms. And just to re-emphasize what Bobby said, the important thing about period effects is that it impacts everyone. The pandemic, for example, has in some way shaped every single person who is alive right now. Let's move on to the second effect. The second effect is called, "The life cycle effect."
Bobby Duffy: We change as we age, we've got lots of evidence that people's priorities and behaviors change as they age, as they leave home, get a job, get married, have kids.
Jason Feifer: And retire and get older, and so on. When you look at life cycle effects, you're able to compare how different generations acted at the same age. What did millennials do in their 20's that Baby boomers also did in their 20's, because that's just a thing you do in your 20's? This is the life cycle effect. And finally, there is the actual "generation" people being shaped by when they were born. Bobby calls this, "The cohort effect."
Bobby Duffy: Where a generation is different from another generation because they've grown up in different circumstances and had different experiences during their more malleable, formative years of late teens and early 20's.
Jason Feifer: Bobby says that when you evaluate change this way, you start to get clarity on what really drives people. Because here's the big problem with our current understanding of generations, there's always some truth to them, you can point to any particular generation and say, "These people do this." And you can find examples of whatever you're talking about woven into the very large group of people you're talking about. But what is the cause of what you're talking about? And is it a defining characteristic of this group of people or simply a reflection of the time or age they're living in? For example, remember a moment ago when we were talking about millennials and Gen-Z leaving jobs faster than other generations? Bobby said...
Bobby Duffy: That's just a misreading of the data because young people always turn over jobs quicker than older people.
Jason Feifer: This isn't a cohort effect with a behavior that's inherent to people born of a specific year. No. This is a life cycle effect. Young people, no matter what year they were born in, do not tend to stick around at their jobs very long.
Jason Feifer: Here's another example, people talk about young people today as having an unusual level of activism, but not true, older generations have also become much more purpose driven and make decisions about what they buy, based on a brand's mission or commitment to sustainability. This is a period effect. It's something we're all doing together as a result of shifts in our economy and culture. The better we understand this, the better we know what we're looking at. For example, why are young people living at home with their parents for longer? It's because housing is more expensive and they're earning less than their parents did at the same age. This again, is a period effect, it's not because they're inherently lazy and expect things to be handed to them, which would be a cohort effect.
Bobby Duffy: If you want to understand the future, you really need to understand which is the dominant effect here. Because if you can truly understand what's different between generations, what's truly different between generations and going to stay different, then that is very important for the future because older generations are dying out, being replaced by younger generations. And if they are different, knowing that is vital.
Jason Feifer: Which brings us back to climate change. Now, that we know all this and we have a smarter way to understand what drives each generation and the danger of getting that understanding wrong. Well, is it possible to dismantle the so-called generational battle over climate change? Is it possible to be smarter about all of this and to give us a way forward on that subject and on anything else, premised on a battle between young and old. That's what we'll get to next after the break.
Jason Feifer: All right. We're back. This episode started with climate change and the untrue story that young people care in old people don't, then we got underneath that problem, looking at how generational divides are literally baked into the concept of generations. And how these divides shape the way that people see themselves and how counterproductive that is, and how there is in fact a much better, smarter, more nuanced way to understand the forces that shape people. And now that we understand this, it is time to talk solutions. What can we do to bring people back together? Let's return to climate change, and to start, let's take a quick survey of how both sides feel. So first, the youth...
Karla Vermeulen: A lot of them volunteered that they really put the blame on the boomers in particular and feel very, just abandoned by them.
Jason Feifer:This again is Karla Vermeulen, author of the book Generation Disaster: Coming of Age Post 9/11. She says climate change came up a lot in her reporting on young people.
Karla Vermeulen: Genuinely, is perceived as an existential threat for them. I've had numerous people say, "I'm not going to have children because of climate change. I don't know if I have a future because of climate change."
Jason Feifer: And now, let's talk to a boomer, though in this case, a very well-informed boomer.
Andy Revkin: I'm Andy Revkin. I've been exploring the global warming question. The biodiversity lost questions since the 1980's.
Jason Feifer: Andy's biography is long but short of it goes like this, he is a long time journalist, the founding director of the Initiative on Communication and Sustainability at the Earth Institute of Columbia University, and among many other things, he writes a newsletter called, "Sustain What?" That I really enjoy. I reached out to Andy because he's an interesting case study. He's been involved long enough to see public perception of the issue evolve, but he's also been part of shaping the narrative himself through being a reporter at the New York Times, writing books, working for magazines and more. So Andy says, yeah, he sees it, he sees how his generation has become the villain in this story.
Andy Revkin: It focuses definitely on my generation. We built the problem.
Jason Feifer: And he also sees how he and other media producers helped create that perception.
Andy Revkin: The media, me and my colleagues, tend to hyper focus on outliers, charismatic figures.
Jason Feifer: I mean, let's just cut to one, to get a sense of what people hear when charismatic figures are amplified. This is AOC, who I played a clip of at the beginning of the show.
Voice Clip (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez): The part of it that is generational is that millennials and people and Gen-Z, and all these folks that come after us, are looking up and we're like, "The world is going to end in 12 years, if we don't address climate change. And your biggest issue is... Your biggest issue is how are we going to pay for it?"
Jason Feifer: To which Andy admits...
Andy Revkin: So there's a bias and there's a familiarity to activists, and they're cool. But to think of them as a vanguard is I think is a very flawed perception of the way the world works.
Jason Feifer: Andy says the same mistake happens in other environmental reporting, endangered dolphins and elephants get all the media attention, but that doesn't give anyone an accurate understanding of the broader changes or needs of an ecosystem. Because, in the case of climate change, he says, "Look, it's great that young people feel passionate about the issue, but framing it as a thing that will either be fixed or failed in the next 12 years. And therefore, is a thing that is possible to tackle in a generation, by one generation. That's just missing the bigger point. Because first of all, we've already dispensed with the myth that young people care about this more than old people, but also it is not true to say that this is a problem that all young people care about. It is something that primarily a wealthy subset of young people in the world care about because they can afford to."
Andy Revkin: Nearly all of the growth and emissions of these gases is going to come in countries that are way behind in developing their economies. For which a lot of young people want jobs, and want electricity, want infrastructure. In Nairobi slums, where I've been, and in rural India, where I've been, to tell... Young people there, aren't really thinking about the climate movement. And so that takes away that idea that there's some generation right now, that's going to make a big difference.
Jason Feifer: Andy once wrote a story for the New York Times about whether it's possible to un-invent suburbia, which itself took more than a century to invent. It's an interesting thought experiment, massive problems require massive structural change, and we must be realistic about how fast that change could even happen.
Andy Revkin: We all can can't jump into an EV or move to a dense urban walkable neighborhood tomorrow. We simply can't. We've created structures in society.
Jason Feifer: And here, Andy doesn't mean to say it's not worth trying to make change, it is. And he isn't trying to discount anyone's passion to make that change because that passion is good. But he is saying, "Look, generational thinking does not help us solve this problem, because it is simply not possible for any one generation to solve. It will require more of us."
Andy Revkin: The final reality related to generations is this issue will always involve all generations, in the sense that there's no magical point. There's no law that will be passed. We already learned, there's no treaty that will be agreed on, this Paris agreement in 2015 only succeeded because it's voluntary. And there was this vision in everyone's head until the Copenhagen Treaty talks, that I covered in 2009 that, "Oh, we're going to have a treaty. It's going to tell us what to do." And that's not the way the human journey works. So it is intergenerational fundamentally.
Jason Feifer: So what do we do? How do we have smarter conversations that will work towards bringing generations together on an issue instead of pushing them apart? That's what I asked Bobby Duffy. How does somebody start to look at something and say, "Okay, I've been told that this is just a product of the generation, but I would like to be smarter about [crosstalk 00:29:04]"
Bobby Duffy: I think just asking that question has helped me so many times. When someone comes to me and says, "That's a generational effect." Just asking that question of, "Are we sure that's the case?"
Jason Feifer: Or are we looking at something else? Are we looking at a life cycle effect, where it's something young people or old people think or do, regardless of what year they were born? Are we looking at a period effect where everyone alive is impacted by a major issue or shift, spending enough time filtering this way? And Bobby says you'll discover that...
Bobby Duffy: More often than not.
Jason Feifer: The thing you're seeing is not actually a generational thing at all. It is something else. And that creates a wide open space to focus not on differences but on commonality. What are the things that have shaped us? And how do our own particular needs at our own particular phase of life factor into how we engage with the shared goal? With climate change, you can think of it this way, all generations care but they will care in different ways. Young people are more inclined towards activism, and see the issue as shaping the life that they have ahead of them. Older people may just come at it differently and it's worth understanding how.
Bobby Duffy: There's a big gap in having messages that are tailored to fit with older people's well of concern. There's not really that targeting going on. And you can see in lots of the academic work, there are some clear framings around how do you approach older people on these types of things, around their sense of legacy. We all have a strong sense of wanting to leave something behind. We don't want to think we just live, die and then that's the end of it.
Jason Feifer: And you can see some of that happening. For example, there's an organization called Third Act, founded by Bill McKibben. It's website explicitly says it's for people over the age of 60, which it calls, "Experienced Americans." But at the same time, it is very quick to defuse generational tension. It says, "We back up the great work of younger people and we make good trouble of our own." And that's how Andy feels too.
Andy Revkin: My Yiddish forbears have the word, "Alta kaker" for people like me, older people to get engaged in social climate activism. And I hope that there are ways for that to serve, to help bridge some of those gaps between generations, and to get everyone more comfortable with the idea that this is a journey, it's... It took us a hundred years to get into this fix with fossil fuels. It's going to take several generations to ride out this moment in time, to see what that new future looks like.
Jason Feifer: He's basically saying, "Hey, this thing that we care about, it is not getting solved now. It isn't even getting solved by the people currently on this planet. It must be us, combined with those who come after us, combined with those who come after them. And none of us will ever see the full story. And none of us can ever know all the problems or all the solutions." And humbling as that is, it is also completely counter to the very idea of generations, which in one way or another is all about identifying uniqueness, about saying, "We are special. We know something others don't. We can do something others cannot or did not." When we obsess over generations, we are often saying for better or for worse, these people are singular in this way. They are creating this impact.
Jason Feifer: And yet the truth of it is, yeah, sure, we're special in some way. But also no matter what generation we're from, we're not that special, we're not that unique. The things we do in our youth will just be repeated by the next generation's youth too. But I say there's nothing wrong with that. That shouldn't be depressing, because the truly unique thing about us isn't how we exist in some sliced off part of the larger human continuum, but rather how we exist inside of that continuum, how we are all part of a shared journey. So maybe the starting point here to fixing this or any large problem is just to default to sharing that journey, to finding ways that we can do that. Because if we're lucky enough, each of us will be young and old and that's our episode.
Jason Feifer: But Hey, one last thing, because I literally cannot avoid it for reasons you'll understand in a second, I'm going to pull back the curtain a little bit on how this show is made. I'll tell you about it in a minute. But first, have you experienced rapid change over the last year? Would you like tools and solutions to build a better future for yourself and others? Sign up for my newsletter, which is also called Build For Tomorrow, where I show you how to turn change into opportunity. Find it by going to jasonfeifer.bulletin.com. And if you want to get in touch with me directly, you can do so at my website, jasonfeifer.com. Or follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I am @heyfeifer.
Jason Feifer: This episode is reported and written by me, Jason Feifer. Sound editing by Alec Balas Our theme music is by Casper Babypants. Learn more at babypantsmusic.com. And thanks to Adam Soccolich for production help. This show is supported in part by the Charles Koch Institute. The Charles Koch Institute believes that advances in technology have transformed society for the better, and is looking to support scholars, policy experts and other projects and creators who focus on embracing innovation, creating a society that fosters innovation, and encouraging people to engineer the next great idea. If that's you, then get in touch with them. Proposals for projects in law, economics, history, political science and philosophy are encouraged. To learn more about their partnership criteria, visit cki.org, that's cki.org.
Jason Feifer: All right. Now, as promised, I'm going to pull back the curtain a little bit and... Hey, Collin, come here. Come here. What do you think I'm doing right now?
Jason Feifer: Where am I working?
Collin: At my bedroom.
Jason Feifer: I'm working in your bedroom? Why am I working in your bedroom?
Collin: Because you're supposed to work in my bedroom.
Jason Feifer: Because I'm supposed to work in your bedroom? Are you leaving now? Okay, bye.
Jason Feifer: So speaking of generations, here's a fun fact, I record this podcast while sitting in my kids' bunk bed. I sit in the bottom bunk, so between the bunks. And the reason I do that is because it has the best acoustics of anywhere in the apartment. So usually I record during the week when the kids are out at school, but I didn't have time this week, and so I have to do it on the weekend. And my wife took my kid out for a little bit, but they just got back just as I was doing the credit. So anyway, the timing was pretty perfect but I thought, "Meh." As well, show you how generations are combined to bring you this show about generations. That's all for this time. Thanks for listening. I'm Jason Feifer and let's keep building for tomorrow.
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