Eloise MacLean is a sophomore honors student at UNC Chapel Hill from Pittsboro, NC, majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Hispanic Studies. Eloise spent the summer as an intern for the Institute for the Environment.
Generation Z, composed of those born approximately 1997-2012, has been coined by many as the generation of laziness and technology addiction— in which the kids are spoiled and privileged, faces glued to screens at all times in a society more convenient and leisurely than ever before. What is often lesser-acknowledged, however, is the enormous task Generation Z is being handed by their parents and grandparents: the need to organize an energy revolution.
Energy Literacy, Engagement, and Action Program (LEAP) is a one-week summer camp for high school students that holds that latter sentiment at its core. Orchestrated by the UNC Institute for the Environment’s Center for Public Engagement with Science and funded by Duke Energy Foundation, the program explores different energy options, systems, and their implications and hosts approximately 20 North Carolina high school students.
I had the wonderful privilege of helping to put Energy LEAP on this year as a summer intern for UNC IE, and as I worked to set its agenda and comb through old and new instructional materials, my goal for the week became clear— to convey to the students, “the future is you, and it will be whatever you make it.”
The beginning of the week centered more around basic energy-related education, including demonstrations and explanations of how electricity is generated, transmitted, and used. Building on that, we delved more into the social, environmental, and economic costs of energy and the manifestations of our current energy systems during subsequent days. We discussed personal choices in regards to energy conservation, consumption, and self-education, as well as the intersectionality of environmental activism, social justice, and self-care.
Energy LEAP students participated in a number of hand- on activities during the week.
This final point— self-care— was especially important to me considering the enormous amount of anxiety and daunt the state of the environment can instill in those who are tasked with fixing it. This apprehension affects every individual differently, but there is an Audre Lorde quote that perfectly encapsulates what I wanted to convey to the students in this discussion: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Together, the students and I contemplated these words on our last day together, and they came up with incredibly insightful and powerful reflections. They noted that fighting harmful systems is most effective when we band together to support ourselves, each other, and the planet, proving to those who don’t care that we are all worthy of care and consideration— the Earth included! This is particularly relevant when the enormous magnitude of energy systems can make individual actions feel futile.
Ultimately, I truly believe that it is the job of today’s up-and-coming youth to take the bull by its horn and finally implement genuine change, especially— in our case— in regard to energy consumption and acquisition. Each and every one of those kids has the capability of contributing to this; nonetheless, with all their bright minds, big ideas, and innovative notions, Generation Z must not only leave progress in its wake, but it must leave hope, too.
To learn more about the Energy LEAP program visit: https://ie.unc.edu/cpes/energyleap/