I recently read an article about a young man named Luke Jordan who is attempting to hike the entire North Country Trail in one jaunt — a trek of 4,600 miles from North Dakota to New York. “Attempt,” however, seems far too skeptical a word, as the 23-year-old has already walked more than 2,300 miles. Unless his determination takes a sharp turn, I’d bet almost anything that he pushes on to finish — an accomplishment only achieved by three other people prior to him.

The article, written by Howard Meyerson and originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, was inspiring to read, as I have my own aspirations of someday hiking part of the same trail. However, I was a little dismayed to find that, like most accounts of 20-something’s spending time in the great outdoors, the article couldn’t come to an end without mentioning a few of the stereotypes of the “Millennial Generation.”

“In an era when many young adults are glued to their computers and social media,” writes Meyerson, “ … Luke Jordan is a refreshing change.” Yes, hiking the entire NCT sure is refreshing — how many people wake up in the morning and decide to put on a 30-pound backpack and walk four-and-half-thousand miles?

Yet, the idea that Strider’s story is inspiring not only because he’s literally walking across the United States, but also because he’s a Millennial is a little insulting.

At 20 years old, I’m a Millennial myself and well aware of everything my generation is supposed to be about. We’re selfish, entitled, technology-obsessed children with no interest in anything that doesn’t concern our immediate well being. We have no idea what nature really is, and we have no interest in striking out to discover it for ourselves, as that would require leaving our computers behind and not receiving a text every five minutes. Since Strider is a Millennial, his extremely inspiring and noteworthy journey is even more incredible — 20-somethings just don’t do things like that. We’re just not into all that nature stuff.

I wouldn’t be so sure.

Yes, I may meet the criteria for a stereotyped young adult: I have an iPhone, a computer and a Facebook account. Yet, at the same time, I, along with hundreds of thousands of other Millennials, have more of a connection to nature than past generations may think. Why? Because we are the ones growing up in — and facing the reality of — a world that’s changing.

Sea levels are rising at catastrophic rates, and extreme weather patterns are leading to intense heat and unseasonal cold weather in places all around the world. The natural processes of our world are being driven to the extremes as our atmosphere changes and our temperatures rise, leading to excess wildfires, droughts, flooding, snow, torrential rain, hurricanes and tornadoes.

And it’s the Millennial Generation that will either make, or break, the fight to stabilize our planet.

We are the future. We, along with our children, are the ones who will suffer from the oncoming peak oil crisis — when our oil production reaches its maximum rate — and the depletion of fossil fuels around the world. We’ll have to find a way to transition to renewable sources of energy as our mainstream modes of energy production run out. The question hanging in the balance is whether we transition before we completely bombard our atmosphere with carbon dioxide or whether we transition after.

Either way, peak oil is coming. We’re tasked with protecting our natural resources as the world population continues to skyrocket and we attempt to feed, water, clothe and care for over seven-billion people.

Who will protect our hardwood and tropical forests as they’re cleared in a desperate attempt to farm increasingly unproductive land? We, the Millennials, will have to. Who will protect our coastal cities as the ice-caps melt and flood Manhattan, New Orleans and Miami? Millennials will have to do that, too.

It’s ironic really, that Millennials — with our touchscreens and smartphones and entitled attitudes — are touted as the generation most disconnected from reality. If you ask me, it was our grandparents’ generation that was out of touch when they solidified fossil fuels as the basis of our entire economy at the peak of industrialization. It’s our parents’ generation that’s missing the big picture as they continue stripping our natural resources, undermining the delicate ecological balance of the world in search of more fuel to feed the economy’s growing appetite.
Even from behind our computer screens and from within our social networking circles, we can see that it’s us, the Millennials, who will have to deal with the fallout of past generations’ short-sighted planning.

Kate Laramie can be reached at laramiek@umich.edu.

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