The Impact Alpha | September 20, 2018

Young people aren’t waiting for permission to lead the reGeneration

David Bank
ImpactAlpha Editor

David Bank

Sustainability is for millennials. Regeneration is for… the ReGeneration.

The term is trending. “Regeneration” is to “responsible,” “sustainable” or even “impact” as  biodynamic is to organic. The new new thing is to nurture and coax gardens to thrive, whether they are communities in hollowed-out urban cores or ecosystems in degraded landscapes.

As Laura Ortiz Montemayor, the founder of SVX México, explained to me, “Impact Investing is a present trend with sustainability as a present goal: Think zero poverty, green finance, responsible consumption, countries with common goals, reducing emissions, design thinking and social entrepreneurs.”

“Regenerative investing is the future with thriving life as the goal,” she continued. “Think shared prosperity, conscious ecosystem health, planetary economy, transformative finance, biodiversity, ecosystem thinking and systemic enterprises building holistic wellbeing & collective balance.”

The higher aspiration is a response to the dawning realization that we can no longer simply not make things worse. It calls out the deep hunger right now for healing.

Which is why I want to claim “reGeneration” for those born since about the turn of the century, who are more numerous than the baby boomers or the Millennials and will likely be even more consequential.

Kids are alright

I have a vested interest as a parent of a 7th grader who is squarely in the generation that has been known by the placeholder “Generation Z.” That  sounds a bit too final to my ear.

Branding matters. Think of how expectations and status soared for the Millennial Generation after they shed the Gen Y label, and never really did for Gen X. (Whether or not the Millennials are fulfilling that promise has been well-hashed over by others, so I’ll leave it at one word: Vote!)

So let’s christen the reGeneration and hope it catches on with the kids. In any event, they’re not asking anyone’s permission to take leadership, as mass-shooting survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, made clear. And any number of social indicators suggest the reGeneration is ready for the challenge.

In a remarkable article in Yes! Magazine last year, Mike Males takes on the stereotype of anxious, screen-addicted kids. “Young Americans as a generation are avoiding crime, violence, prison, parenthood, dropout, and other major life determinants and adopting more inclusive, global attitudes,” he writes.

As usual, California is the future. In the 1970s, 10% of youthful Californians were arrested every year, Males writes. In the 90s, that fell to 7%. Now: 2%, “the sunniest numbers ever reliably recorded.” He cites statistics that, while California’s teenage youth population grew by 1 million from 1990 to 2015, their murder arrests fell from 658 to 88; violent crimes from 21,000 to 7,000; total criminal arrests from 220,000 to 63,000; gun killings from 351 to 84; and school dropout rates from 16% to 6%. College enrollment and graduation rose from 34% to 47%. “Troubles plummeted in tough East Oakland and affluent Irvine alike,” he writes.

One reason for the positive trends: California has gone through the demographic transition much of the rest of the country is still wrestling with. “Nearly three-fourths of young people now are of color, and half have at least one foreign-born parent,” Males writes. “That’s what America’s future looks like.

Legal challenge

I saw the multicultural reGeneration in action last week as part of the dramatic Coal + Ice exhibition at Ft. Mason in San Francisco (through Sept. 23 and well worth a visit). Victoria Barrett and Aji Piper, two of 21 teenaged plaintiffs, came to discuss the “youth v. gov” lawsuit that seeks to hold the federal government responsible for violating the youngest generations constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property through its “affirmative actions” that cause climate change.

Victoria, 19, learned about environmental justice and environmental racism in afterschool programs in New York City, “and the way climate change manifested itself in people’s lives, in marginalized communities and for people of color and particularly for young people,” she says. “And once I got involved in that, I just couldn’t ignore it.”

Aji, 18, has been an environmental activist since he was 12, with Plant for the Planet, a youth-run organization that says it has planted 14 billion trees around the world. He had earlier been part of a lawsuit against Washington state’s Department of Ecology, so he signed up as soon as he heard about the effort by the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust to sue the feds. Depositions can be fun, he said. “I just let the facts speak for themselves,” he said. “We have real harms that are happening to us now. We have real moral authority and standing. We haven’t caused these problems, yet all these damages being levied against us.”

The plaintiffs have prevailed against furious attempts by the Trump administration to have the lawsuit dismissed. At the end of July, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the case can move forward. The trial begins Oct. 29 in Eugene, Oregon. The plaintiffs are not seeking financial damages, but rather a national “climate recovery plan.”

“Posterity,” Victoria answered when asked what she’s suing for. “If we win this case, it’s all about coming up with a remedy that ensures our generation has a sustainable planet to live on, and generations after that.”

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 would be a major feat for Millennials now entering their primes, as well as aging boomers desperate to rescue that generation’s decidedly mixed legacy. The reGeneration will take it from there. Luckily for all of us, they’re not waiting to get started.

This is the latest column in David Bank’s weekly series, The Impact Alpha. Catch up on all of David’s columns here.