As my inaugural blog for Gristmill, I’d like to send a shout out — or rather, to put out an APB — for Generation X, or what I would like to call my “Lost Generation.”

No offense to Larry Page or Sergey Brin. You have shown that youth — thrown in the deep end far too early — can actually rise to the challenge, blossoming into revolutionary 25-35 year olds who truly change the world.

While past industrial revolutionists created the steam engine, the cotton en(gin)e, and the diesel engine, you created and revolutionized the search engine, and have revolutionized the internet. Good show!

But, honestly, where are your 1,000 counterparts, working together at every level of industry, government, and the nonprofit sector, to address our generation’s Cold War — the threat of global warming?

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Blast from the Past

Where is the Renewable John D. Rockefeller, following in the footsteps of Standard Oil’s founder, and at 31 creating a “Standard Sun” and “Standard Wind” to battle for global energy market share?

Standard Oil may be a forgotten name to our generation, but this little oil company, born in the ’70s (1870s, that is) grew fast, at one point accounting for half of all US oil production — at the time the 4th largest US export in value. Since then, Standard Oil’s offspring — sired by Justice Edward Douglass White and the Supreme Court in 1911 under Antitrust laws — have grown up to be today’s fantastically successful and infamous energy companies. Their actions both meet the vast energy needs of us all, and perpetuate a system that threatens to cook the planet. We need alternatives.

And where is today’s ruthless, 30-year-old Thomas Edison, finding new and innovative ways to use, market, and sell new energy products and systems — stealing patents, failing more than succeeding, crushing the competition, and not giving up until he ran his industry?

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And where is the 26-year-old Henry Ford II of today — capitalizing on the public’s frustration with traffic, gas prices, road rage, and high fatality rates — to either transform or compete with America’s Big Three auto companies, forcing them to become players in a more diverse Modern Transportation Industry that includes a first-class rail system and other low-carbon travel?

Now perhaps these all sound like utopian goals, but so did the automobile in an age of horse travel, coal in the day of wood, oil in the day of coal, and an energy grid in the days of candlelight. Young Rockefeller, Edison, and Ford found ways to do it.

Excuse Me

I have always been told to can the excuses, so I will, but first I want to lay out some possible reasons that we aren’t producing more industrial revolutionaries. It is important to know where the hurdles are and how high they rise, so we can either break them down or jump over them.

Top Five Excuses Why Generation X is Not Doing More

  1. The system has failed us — charging us exorbitant fees for degrees, in effect forcing us to choose between taking jobs as indentured followers (think first-year law associates) or setting out on our own with $1,000+ monthly payments.
  2. Our forefathers and parents taught us to mistrust each other — turning North vs. South, Hatfield vs. McCoy, Democrat vs. Republican — and we are now paddling opposite directions while our boat sinks.
  3. We have become complacent, living through the relatively safe and secure ’80s and ’90s. No civil rights marches to grab our attention. No draft to force many of us to either protest or shut up and suit up.
  4. The need for increased specialization has narrowed our focus — depriving us of the chance to become Renaissance world visionaries.
  5. Neither the categories of “student” or “professional” properly encapsulate us, and we are in limbo — confused about our role.

More fundamentally, though, I think those who care the most about a Climate Neutral future, the great, young, environmental leaders of our time — the Adam Werbachs, the Billy Parishes, and the Chip Gillers — have been taught that to change the world you must be a revolutionary environmentalist, not a revolutionary industrialist. They need counterparts!

Stopping and Starting

“Stop Global Warming” has become our clarion call, and with good reason. Because that’s what good environmentalists do, right? Stop things? Development projects, power plants, polluting corporations.

But in a more fundamental sense, to get society to stop global warming is to ask all of us to come together to build a brave, new world — a world that can somehow provide services and goods to 9 billion people in the coming century, while creating minimal pollution, waste, disease, and death.

To discuss how to “stop” global warming can too often be to look at the glass of the future as leaking and nearly empty. To plan a Modern Industrial Revolution (MIR) is to see an enormous overflowing pitcher.

We are a generation that must come together to erect thousands of steel towers across the country for wind turbines; replace 500 million old, leaking windows; create 150 million cars that don’t need much, if any, gas; and lay another 50,000 miles of passenger tracks and 50,000 solar panels.

We are a generation that must follow our passions and let them take us outside traditional politics, academic disciplines, and career paths, to change the face of social, economic, and political systems in this country.

Calling Generation X

So with this blog post, I would like to throw down the gauntlet to Generation X, starting this instant — because we don’t have a moment to lose.

For the foreseeable future, I will dedicate this space to challenging, highlighting, and enabling my Generation X’ers to do more, be more, and build more on our way to a Modern Industrial Revolution.

For some inspiring examples, see what graduate students around the country are doing, before they are even out of school, to build climate neutral campuses.

And for those of you who don’t believe it can be done — that modern-day industry is too entrenched, that the world is built by adults, and that revolutions are run by teenagers — tune in next week when I will submit my first data set of historical leaders 25-36 years old. Some got rich, some got famous, some died trying, but most took the industrial “road less traveled” and changed the world.

It’s time for all of us to join Larry and Sergey and find untapped ideas to speed our long march to Climate Neutrality. Who is with me?

Coming Soon: Part II: Solutions to Pollution — Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution

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