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Lee Capristo
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Email: lwcapristo@smcm.edu
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My View

Written by Chelsea Howard-Foley ’11, political science major

SMCM student Chelsea Howard-Foley, left, was chosen to be one of 500 U. S. youth delegates at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

We Millennials Put Him There; Why Isn’t Obama Keeping his Promises?

I am a member of the Millennial Generation, the largest generation in American history, sometimes referred to as Generation Y or Generation We. As one of the 95 million born between 1978 and 2000, I have grown up during a time of intense economic, political, and social turmoil. From the wars (the first Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on drugs) and the housing bubble to the economic crisis, the fear of domestic terrorism, and global climate change, a lot has happened in my relatively short lifetime.

As a result, we are facing many challenges on our path to adulthood. Crippling (and only increasing) student loan debt, the worst job market since World War II, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, skyrocketing cost of living, and a climate in a state of crisis are just a few of the issues my generation is confronting as we try to find our place in the world. One strength, however, is we are not in this alone. According to a 2003 report from the United Nations Population Fund, over half of the world's population is now under 25. This figure has serious implications for the future of America and the world, but has been overlooked by the United Nations and President Obama, among others. Obama

The Millennial Generation is unique and powerful not only because of how many of us there are and what has happened during our lifetime, but because of our collective worldview and how we approach the challenges put in front of us. Globalization is not simply a concept for my generation. It is a reality that we have been living all our lives. We cannot remember a time when China did not trade with the West, we can only vaguely recall the creation of the European Union in 1993, and we probably forget that it is the North American Free Trade Agreement that allows us to trade so easily with Canada and Mexico.

Global climate change and the science behind it is something that we are all too familiar with as a result of elementary schools, colleges, and universities emphasizing environmental education, and environmental studies becoming a recognized academic field. The Millennial Generation wasn't here for the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 but we do know the scientific facts regarding global climate change, and have seen resource prices skyrocket in a free market economy. And we have come to the conclusion that as a society our consumption patterns have to change if we hope to inhabit this planet much longer.

Additionally, we have grown up with technology and are extremely proficient at anything involving computers or cell phones, including Google, blogging, Twitter, Facebook, texting, e-mail, Skype, and YouTube. We regularly communicate across the world, share ideas on the internet, and have increasingly been using technology and social media as a means of getting politically involved and running campaigns.

Of course, the most prominent example of our burgeoning clout is the 2008 United States presidential election. Youth voters turned out in record numbers; campaigned; registered our friends to vote; signed 341,127 PowerVote pledges promising to vote for a clean, just, economical future for the world; and then voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Meanwhile, the Obama for America campaign used social media, technology, and leadership development to get us to the voting booth. Obama ran on a campaign of hope and change, and - through his grassroots style of organizing and developing young volunteers - demonstrated to my generation that he was ready to truly embrace the realities of a globalized political economy. If his campaign was any indication of how he would run the country, there was hope for American governance in the 21st century. In short, we invested our votes in Obama because we thought that he understood the challenges facing our generation and would take the lead by addressing them.

Fast forward to December of 2009 and I am in Copenhagen at the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change's 15th Conference of the Parties, along with 2,000 international and 500 American youth delegates. In the United States, several of my friends were at the White House to attend the Clean Energy Economy Forum. Meanwhile, President Obama was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo for his efforts to start dialogues with other countries and ameliorate anthropogenic climate change. Despite the fact that Congress had not passed a climate bill and the United States still had the highest carbon emissions per capita, Obama had only committed to attending Copenhagen for 24 hours.

Still, the youth of the United States were hoping that he would follow through on his campaign promises and take bold action in Copenhagen. This was not to be. Obama came to Copenhagen, went into backdoor negotiations, wreaked havoc on the official negotiations, alienated many countries, and generally embarrassed the United States and my generation.

It seems that President Obama has forgotten the lessons he learned on the campaign trail about empowerment, inclusion, and leadership development. While our president is busy with plans to expand offshore oil drilling, we are organizing campuses and communities to take action on climate change and ensure a future that is both ecologically and economically sustainable. In this case, I think that the band MGMT describes the situation best: "The youth is starting to change. Are you starting to change?"