I just returned from the NAEM Forum in Albuquerque, the annual meeting of the association of EHS professionals to which I belong. I left the meeting thinking about the enormous environmental challenges our world faces as your generation enters college or struggles to enter the work force.
Each generation is defined by the challenges it inherits and what it does with them. Grandpa and grandma’s generation overcame the Depression, won World War Two, and outlasted the Russians in The Cold War. Your parent’s generation moved our society to redress discrimination related to race, gender, and sexual orientation and moved environmental conservation into the mainstream. Of course, we’ve had our failures. These failures will be your challenges. Among the environmental challenges we bequeath you are global warming, rapid decline of our ocean habitats, and loss of topsoil and fresh water resources. As I listened to the keynote speakers at our conference talk about these looming environmental crises, my thoughts turned to you and your generation and I was encouraged.
You’ve said to me, “Dad you’re from the Bronze Age,” and, in relative terms, I hope you are right. I see in you and your generation a group of people free from the social, governmental and technological limitations of past generations. I often joke that your friends and classmates look like a United Nations convention and you would all be lost without your iPhones. But, your desire to befriend people regardless of their backgrounds, your sense that in diversity there is strength, and your skill with information technology, will enable you to tackle these daunting environmental challenges. It will take the whole planet and all of the technology and creativity we can bring to bear to solve them. Your generation is equipped to do it.
The writer and historian Wallace Stegner called the American West “the Geography of Hope.” In your face, and the diverse faces of your generation, iPhones and all, I see a geography of hope for overcoming our global environmental challenges. Go forward and do good work. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren are counting on you.
Stephen Evanoff will chairperson of the 2010 Forum! Mark your calendars for October 13-15, 2010, in Indianapolis, IN, at the Downtown Marriott.