By: Sofia Liszka
With another Earth Day behind us, many have probably passed their individual peak of green thoughts and actions for the year and resumed daily life with sustainable habits on the back burner. In a society that wants us to stay busy and motivated, we understandably find ourselves working hard in the present towards the achievement of future milestones, whether it be a college degree, a job promotion, a well-deserved vacation or the completion of a 5K. As students, our lives are a mix of academic and social markers, and we often have supportive people in our lives to help us reach them.
Environmentally-speaking, we as a generation are often pointed to as the people destined to put Earth back on track. We are the people who will make improvements on all different scales to solve the problems that those before us are lacking adequate time to finish alone. Our elders and peers are right in that we are young and being educated to innovate, and that many of us have yet to enter the workforce for good. Their conclusion that the task to solve large environmental problems is ours is accurate. It’s true that we will age and live alongside climate change, deforestation, food insecurity, air pollution, human population growth and more. Yet, at a generational level, if we focus too much on the high hopes our parents and grandparents have for us, we forget those who are yet to come, those who will be looking up to us for solutions: our kids.
While having a family isn’t typically a priority yet in most adolescent lives, looking to millenials a little farther down this road yields insight into an interesting ethical and scientific dilemma. Family planning is, whether we recognize it or not, impacted by environmental problems, making people think harder about what it means to bring children into a world with a seemingly unstable environmental future. Last week, NBC explored this personal decision through interviews with potential parents and academics alike, creating an interesting dialogue about parenting and the environmental footprint that having children inevitably causes. Though it is not meant to delay family plans nationally, the article illustrates the variable weight that environmental issues have on our decisions, whether you claim to be highly influenced by the environmental future, unaffected or lie somewhere in the middle.
Aside from the headcount of a family-to-be, geographic location is also a recurring, albeit important, factor to think about: where will you live with this family and work later in life? Demographic trends seem to help answer this question, statistically narrowing down and helping predict the location of your future home. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s Sun Belt states are the predominant destination for Americans on the move. As studied at the local level, “Nine of the 10 counties that added the largest number of residents are in Sun Belt states like Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada and Florida.” Unsurprisingly, the other county of the ten holds Seattle, the subject of my search for sustainability last month. And for those who aspire to reside at an international destination, the United Nations predicted last year that by 2050, 68 percent of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas.
These new migration trends are both fascinating and concerning when impacts on resources are considered. Spurred growth in more cities across the country complicates existing urban strains, whether it be transportation and carbon emissions, adequate housing quantity and quality or affordability in living costs. Cities have to accommodate new and existing habitats alike, a challenge heightened when natural resources are not exactly abundant nor readily available.
Concerning water, a resource of obvious foundational importance, the Sun Belt states have been battling to find a balance of sustainable use and protection of the Colorado River due to recent severe drought. Such a strain has helped the Sun Belt’s city of Phoenix, the 11th-fastest growing city nationally in 2018, better its water use plans. The city has successfully undertaken a diverse base of water recycling and diversion strategies to ultimately reduce water use per capita. Yet, as the region’s cities deal with population growth, the practicality of such elaborate plans on a much larger scale across that sector of the country is questionable. Concerning the region’s uncertain future, University of Arizona researchers point out that “not only will water managers in the Southwest need to contend with increased uncertainty in water supply, but also changes in population growth, technology, and economic, social and legislative conditions which will very likely increase water demand.”
Destinations like the nation’s Sun Belt cities present undeniable challenges for urban planners, scientists and residents, but from a social standpoint, the potential for city culture and social fabric to shift with demographic changes is exciting. For all we know, some future inhabitants of these growing cities might be relocating for a green career that puts them at the front of this problem-solving process. People are just as much part of environmental solutions as they are the root problem, and while each of our futures are uncertain from many different angles, we have to adapt to the environmental changes we are certain to face. We can’t exactly run from global environmental phenomena, and with generations to come that rely on us for a brighter future, a mindset to run will put us farther from the solutions and decisions we are responsible for making.
Earth Day may be another year away, but its purpose to make us think about our capabilities and habits as individuals, families, towns, states, countries and a global team is not an annual lesson. We gain knowledge in the classroom and conversation, and on the job and news: all of it is preparing us to be more mindful and effective inhabitants of a planet that needs our help every day of every year to come.
Image via Pixabay