Reports about climate change make the future seem dire, with predictions about rising sea levels that will cause flooding, droughts that will harm crops and wildlife, and severe weather that could spawn more destructive hurricanes and tornadoes.
But there is also hope because younger generations, pessimistic that their elders will do enough to combat climate change, are poised to lead the charge.
“When I talk to people in my generation, the Baby Boomer generation, I have to explain exactly what climate change is,” he says. “They may argue with me. They may deny climate change. I’ve spoken at events and been openly heckled by climate deniers from my generation.
“But the younger generations see things differently. They look at older Americans and say, ‘You’re leaving us a world in peril. We’re going to do something about it.’ ”
Coping With Climate Anxiety
A survey conducted by the Harris Poll and the National 4-H Council found that 84 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 19 believe climate change will affect everyone in their generation and 62 percent believe older generations have had a negative effect on the environment.
“And they’re right,” says Dalene, who is president and CEO of Telemark Inc., a construction services business that has become a leader in embracing the latest in energy efficiencies. “The sad truth is my generation screwed up a lot.”
Some young people are so concerned they even suffer from climate anxiety and eco-anxiety. One recent study, published in The Lancet, surveyed 10,000 young people ages 16 to 25 in the United States and nine other countries.
The survey found that respondents in every country were worried about climate change, with 59 percent very or extremely worried. More than 50 percent reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. More than 45 percent said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.
At the same time, though, 77 percent said they feel they have a responsibility to protect the future of the planet and the same percentage feel empowered to act.
Meanwhile, Dalene is trying to do his part to make amends for his generation. He developed a system called ICEMAN (International Carbon Equivalent Mechanism Attributed to Neutrality), which gives businesses a snapshot of the carbon emissions generated by their products, processes, or services.
‘How Can We Fix This?’
The ICEMAN system, which businesses could use for free, assigns an index number based on a product’s greenhouse emissions. Dalene would like to see the system implemented nationally so consumers would be aware of what a company’s carbon emissions level is. He is confident market forces would take over from there.
“People in the younger generations understand that it is their responsibility to make things better,” Dalene says. “As consumers, they are willing to spend a little more money to effectuate that change, knowing that it will save them – save them money, save their lives, save the planet– in the long run.”
Dalene says one bit of good news he sees is that younger generations are starting “to open my generation’s eyes.”
“We’re starting to understand that what we did was wrong,” he says. “Now we have to correct it, before handing the planet over to our children. We have a chance to forward a movement to reverse all the bad things that we have done for the environment, going all the way back to the Industrial Revolution. We have the chance to say, ‘How can we fix this? How can I as an individual take responsibility to make this planet a better place?’ ”
Frank Dalene is President and CEO of Telemark Inc., and the author of Decarbonize the World: Solving the Climate Crisis While Increasing Profits in Your Business (www.frankdalene.com)