February 16, 2024

1970. Today's Youth and the Environmental Crisis

The Generation Gap
"New York City Earth Day crowd, April 22, 1970" (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 13, 1970

We of the barbershop, square generation might as well face up to it. All the tortured, masochistic, and guilt-ridden adult talk about bridging the generation gap is a lot of bunk and time-wasting twaddle.

It's my generation gap, too—and I want to keep it that way, just as did my father and his father before him.

So it ill-behooves the older generations who couldn't keep themselves out of a half-dozen wars of living memory to be shocked at the antics of a small minority of young peace protestors. And for the generations which invented bootleg booze, goldfish swallowing, and the Black Bottom—their professed shock at long hair, pot parties, and adenoidal guitar pickers smacks of hypocrisy.

Parents who deplore the bas couture, low-style hobo-jungle look that is now the "thing" among the young should come off it. They should welcome the fact that junior and his sister are shopping at the Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army store. It certainly doesn't hurt the family budget.

For our money, the only group of adults who have a legitimate gripe about the bedraggled mode of the flower children are the hair stylists and barbers union. But just wait, their day will come when the pendulum returns and everyone goes on a Yul Brynner kick. In case you've forgotten when you were a younger generation: as far as youth groups are concerned, they are about as non-conformist as West Point cadets.

As a parent of two college students and one high school type, their mother and I worry—just as my parents did when I decided to leave home and work in a soap factory. But that's about all we can do, because by now we've made them what they are, and so did you.

So concerned parents may take comfort from the words of battling Margaret Mead, a venerable little lady who has fought anthropological battles across the world.

Speaking in New York on last April's Earth Day, Miss Mead had this assessment of today's younger generation:

"Young people have a sense of this planet that older people did not have when they grew up." Margaret Mead goes on to say, "They have a sense of the unity of the human race that older people had only as a dream . . . All these things are linked together . . . their feeling about the whole planet . . . about war . . . about population balance and the environment."

And Miss Mead concludes: "If we put all these things together in a new ethic . . . that ethic ought to give us the possibility of inventing the kind of scientific advances which will cope successfully with the ecological crisis mankind has inflicted on the Earth."

Margaret Mead is 68 years old. It appears it is we of the middle-aged generation and those with intellectual arthritis that she objects to. So do I.

After World War I, there was the "Lost Generation," then the Depression Generation, and after World War II the Silent Generation which, in part, fathered this present tribe of kids.

Discounting the Charles Mansons and the lunatic fringe that turns up in every age, I'm betting the flower children are going to turn out all right.

This is Bill Downs in Washington with "The Shape of One Man's Opinion," a service of ABC News.