This is very long, but also very beautiful. You will be mesmerized. And moved.
You Were Born to Save the Planet
Teens Turning Green
San Rafael, CA
5 Feb 2010
You were born to save the planet.
The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and it has all been leading up to you. 4.4 million years ago an ancestor we now call ARDI roamed the land of Ethiopia, and her life was leading up to you. The last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, thawed, leaving the redwood forests to our North, and all of this was leading up to you. The Earth needs you right now.
Your generation was born to save the planet.
Have you ever wondered when things started going wrong? Our ecological systems are in decline, one-third of fish species stand at the verge of collapse, the glaciers of the Himalayas, which provide drinking water to over a billion people, are rapidly melting, the chemicals we're putting in us, on us and around us are forming complex endocrine disrupting compounds that are in every one of our bodies. Every mother who is breastfeeding in America today is probably passing a man-made chemical to their child. There's something fundamentally wrong when mothers need to worry about chemicals that they're passing to their children.
We're born with better sense than that. You learn basic rules in kindergarten. Don't break your friend's toys. Share. Wait in line. Don't hurt anybody. Robert Fulghum wrote a little book called All I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten. But then we grow up. We forget all of that. The plague of Middle School is visited upon us. We get focused on soccer practice. And bands. And ballet. And sex. And STAR tests. And SATs. And college.
I actually want to write a sequel to Fulghum's book. We could call it: All I Need to Forget I learned in Middle School.
Whenever it started, the bad news seems to keep on coming.
Ten months ago the last wild jaguar in the United States was killed. The last one. They called it Macho B. Biologists had been seeing Macho B for years. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish killed it accidentally in a bungled attempt to save it, because the Federal Government had refused to give the jaguar Endangered Species Protection.
This is happening in your lifetimes. This isn't something you need to wait for a Kens Burns Documentary to hear about, the crash in biodiversity in our last wild places is happening now.
Tonight hundreds of thousands of Haitians are sleeping below flimsy plastic shelters wondering where they'll find their next meal, wondering when their kids will start going to school again. And while the telethons and pleas seem intense now, it seems inevitable that their plight will be forgotten under the gleam of the release of the next Ipad. It's eerily reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of our own New Orleans. And with all of this destruction it feels surreal to see malls selling Hello Kitty purses while the Jonas brothers are mugging at the Grammys.
Understand that life is strange right now. You may have heard that the actor Jeremy Piven, who plays Ari on the HBO show Entourage, recently had to resign from a David Mamet production because of acute mercury poisoning. He claims to have been eating sushi two times a day for the last decade, and as we know large fish have high levels of mercury because of Mercury released into the air by coal fired power plants. Mamet responded that "Piven has decided to resign to take on his other job as a thermometer."
Welcome to your planet. On behalf of all previous generations, let me say, I'm sorry we broke it.
But you're different.
You're here on a Friday night. You've probably always been different. Maybe you were someone who knew early on that it wasn't right to hurt animals and stood up and said so even though you were just a kid. Or maybe you were someone who said stop when they picked on someone weaker. Or maybe you were someone who was the first to send your allowance when a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti struck. Maybe you've always known there's something shallow, something empty in the game that life is setting you up to play. Earn money to buy things, get jealous of your friends' things, work harder to get more things and then die wishing you had done something else.
Or maybe you're here by accident. There is free food.
All of this bad news should make me crawl up into a ball. But instead I'm oddly optimistic, like a kid looking for coins in a payphone. The world may be screwed up, but it's changing faster than ever. And if you don't like the way things are, change is good. My mentor David Brower, who was the first executive director of the Sierra Club, told me, not long before his death, that all he had been able to do was to slow the rate at which get worse. That's not enough. Your challenge is to make the type of change we want at the speed we need. And you have it in your neural programming to make it so. Recent brain studies show that your brain moves faster when you're younger, so you're bringing more processing power to the challenge. All of that texting and facebooking is going to pay off in spades. The battles of today -- like the fact that some people still oppose two loving people getting married just because they're gay -- will all be historical memories like segregation and bans on intermarriage.
The world is changing and your generation was born to save the planet.
The first time I was ever involved in a real campaign was when I was in high school in California. It was for the Big Green ballot initiative, an early attempt to pass efficiency laws, save our forests and stop toxics. It was the whole enchilada and I wanted to help. I walked into the headquarters and asked the lead organizer what I should do. I'll never forget what she looked like, she had long straight brown hair, a Pixies t-shirt and tight jeans, a slowly burning cigarette dangling from her lips, a cup of coffee in her hands and her foot was tapping in rhythm as she gave quiet orders to the thirty people she had working in an old bank they rented.
"I want to help" I said, as she looked at me impatiently.
"Well," she said, taking a drag off her cigarette, "there's the phone, here's a list, there's the coffee, get to work."
"But," I said, a little intimidated, "I'm a high school student. Who's organizing high school students?"
She kind of snarled at me as if I asked her if we had a crib for nap-time.
"Well," she said, a bit more slowly this time, "why don't you do that?" Afraid to ask her one last question, I still did. "How?"
She looked at me and said, "there's the phone, here's a list, there's the coffee, get to work."
I sat down and started calling my friends. When they asked me what to do I told them what she had told me. "There's the phone, here's a list, there's the coffee, get to work." By the time campaign was over, we had recruited over 300 high school students across the state. We had knocked on thousands of doors and called thousands of voters. And then the vote happened. We got killed. Big Green was defeated. But the next morning those students kept on calling and asking what's next. And together we started the Sierra Student Coalition for the Sierra Club and recruited over 30,000 students and helped pass the bill to protect the largest national park in the lower 48 states. Cesar Chavez said you build movements one person at a time. And he was right.
Now what type of movement are you going to build?
In your parents generation there was one main type of effective civic movement. A movement to move politicians. 40 years ago this year, 20 million Americans came together to declare the first "Earth Day" on April 22nd. They held teach-ins, they buried a car to challenge consumerism, and they wore a lot of plaid.
And it worked. In the decade surrounding the first earth day the U.S. passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Protection Act. Where I grew up in Los Angeles in the summer we had to check in the Los Angeles Times to see if there was a first stage smog alert, because baseball practice automatically cancelled when there was a first stage smog alert. Well, today there are rarely first stage smog alerts in LA and San Francisco and cities like them all across the country because of the Clean Air Act. That's what a movement can do.
But the hard truth is that 1970's environmentalism has been dead for ten years, probably more, as it has failed to respond to the challenge and opportunities that the world is now experiencing. Something new is being born in its place -- it's a larger BLUE movement, because it's not just green -- or environmental -- it's broader. I have never met a student activist who is just an environmental activist. Young people connect global warming and poverty and civil rights and culture and fashion and technology and war all into one intention that defies categorization. This movement brings together social, environmental, economic and cultural aspects and says that helping people in Haiti matters even though it has nothing to do with global warming. It's goal is sustainability -- which means, simply, thriving in perpetuity. Not just for those of us who get to go to great school or go to work every day at a job with meaning, but for everyone. And while politics and lawmaking are going to be key to this new BLUE movement, personal transformation and corporate change are two additional fronts that need to be launched. Improve yourself. Spend your money as if you're voting. And why am I talking to a group called Teens Turning Green about something BLUE? Because you're not here just to turn the teens.
You're here to turn the greens. You are the future of the environmental movement -- you are the ones who are challenging and changing it from being narrowly focused.
So what type of movement are you going to build?
Let's start with personal transformation. You were born perfect. With a hundred trillion cells and twenty times more microbes living on you,protecting you from and for the world. Your body is a magical construction that we can only begin to understand. And most people in the developed world spend 80 years destroying these bodies with bad food, a sedentary lifestyle and toxic chemicals.
Any movement starts with yourself. I ask you to pick a DOT -- DOT stands for Do One Thing. One thing that's good for you, good for the planet, that you do regularly. Maybe it's yoga or riding your bike or saving energy. But it's one thing you do to put your body where your mouth is. We need a billion DOTs. One billion people all making their own commitments. Take a moment now and choose your own DOT. Share it with a friend. Keep it going. Pick another. And it all adds up. If every high schooler turned the thermostat in their house down by one degree celsius, it would be like reducing 100,000 tanker trucks of gasoline, or taking over a million cars off the road. We need you to recruit students at your school and get them them to pick their own DOTs. Raise your hand if you can get me 3 DOTs? 10 DOTs? 100 DOTs.
This movement won't be led by one great man or woman, it will be built on our individual actions that ladder up to legislative, corporate and cultural changes. What's your DOT?
Now let's talk corporate change. Americans have a stronger knowledge of the name of their brand of toilet paper than their member of Congress. The author Richard Louv likes to say that Americans can name more corporations by their logos than trees by their leaves. The average American woman spends an hour a day shopping. We can attack people who consume as evil, or we can acknowledge that we live in a post-industrial society where we shop to buy things. So our challenge is to learn how to shop right. To vote every time we buy. And to have an outsized voice by knowing the name of your store managers. And expressing your preferences. Don't just boycott, buycott. Demand truth in labeling. Go shopping with your friends. Make it yourself. What if every time you bought a piece of fruit you knew what farm it came from? What if every package you bought could be reused or composted. What if every time they scanned something at the grocery store it beeped if it was so toxic that eating it could kill you. You can make this happen.
Marketing is dead. Tweet that. Micro-movements are replacing marketing. What you do and tell your friends to do will make or break billion dollar corporate brands. Put the products that you love and hate on your facebook page. There's a reason why your campaigns against EXPO whiteboard markers and the overuse of Purell in schools are working. And companies are taking note.
When I started helping companies like Walmart on their journey towards sustainability I was called every name you can imagine. I lost people who I thought who were my friends. But how can we ignore a store where 90% of Americans shop every year? That's like trying to play a song on the Piano with only the white keys. Or driving a car with one tire. We don't have time to be so precious. If you're in this movement to look good, just buy yourself another mirror and save us all some time. If you want to be part of the type of massive changes we need right now -- confront the most powerful corporations and institutions on the planet. Now. You can do it. And they need your help.
Humanity has faced this type of change before.
Lake Toba in Sumatra was once Mount Toba. But 76,000 years ago Mount Toba erupted, sending over 700,000 square kilometers of ash into the atmosphere. So much ash that it blocked the sun and caused an ice age. The humans on the planet were decimated. Some anthropologists say we got down to less than one thousand families on the entire planet. But somehow humanity and this incredible biosphere recovered to become this magnificent world. We have in us the resilience to deal with hard times. And some people now say our problem isn't too few people, it's too many.
Your generation was born to save the planet.
Have you heard of the youth bulge? It doesn't sound good. It sounds like some sort of weight problem like the Freshmen 15. But it's not. Right now there are about 6.7 billion people on the planet. And there's an emerging bulge of teenagers at the bottom of the demographic pyramid that exists because fertility rates are dropping globally. By 2011 there will be 7 billion people and 1 Billion teenagers on the planet. Can you imagine 1 billion teenagers. 1 Billion teenagers.
Can you imagine them talking all at once.
Can you imagine them all clapping once. At Saatchi S we call that a Clump. Try it with me. (CLAP). Can you imagine what that would sound like. Now imagine one billion teenagers all choosing to give up drinking bottled water on a regular basis. Now imagine them all walking in the same direction in a line that's as long as 1,000,000 empire state buildings. Can you see it? The line would stretch around the earth fifteen times. Can you see it? Now imagine one billion DOTs. All coming together. I'll bet on that.
Your generation was born to save the planet. You are the change we need right now.
The great organizer Saul Alinsky frequently quoted Hannibal, who said, "we will find a way or we'll make a way." Find a way. Make a way. You have to.
Your generation was born to save the planet.