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The enemy is ignorance

This essay was written to answer the question: "What is the greatest challenge facing our generation?"

In an age of 24-hour news channels, live webcasts, podcasts, blogs and news in print and online, information is now more readily available than ever before. However, today it seems like teens are more interested in video games, iPods and MySpace, and very little time is spent on considering the huge obstacles facing us. So with the many issues facing our generation, ignorance is probably the most prominent and widespread.

Ask any high school student to name the winner and runner-up of all five seasons of "American Idol," and they will blissfully begin listing them off the top of their head. But ask who the vice president is, and you may be met with a blank stare. (It's Dick Cheney, by the way.) Our generation has often been described as spoiled, lethargic and selfish, as showcased on any episode of MTV's "Super Sweet Sixteen." In just a few short years, it will be up to us to make the decisions that will affect our country and the world at large. Will we be ready?

For instance, global warming is a huge dilemma facing our planet that could have lasting effects in our lifetime and beyond. Every day, more and more greenhouse gases collect in the atmosphere, slowly trapping in the sun's heat and over time causing the planet to warm. Scientists predict the average U.S. temperature could be 10 degrees higher by the end of the century, meaning that if this is to be prevented, it will be up to this generation. This rise in temperature has caused drought, wildfires and strengthened hurricanes. The greatest threat of global warming is the melting of ice caps, which scientists say are declining at the rate of 9 percent per decade, leading to a loss in wildlife habitat, rising sea levels and flooding of coastal cities.

If teens remain ignorant of these facts and how to put a stop to the harmful effects we have on the environment, there will be dire consequences in our lifetime. As the future of the country with the largest source of global warming pollution, it is our responsibility to find solutions where past generations have not. With only 4 percent of the world's population, the U.S. produces 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide pollution -- more than India, Japan and China combined. Teens must learn to battle this by planting trees, using cleaner cars and reducing pollution from vehicles, power plants and electrical appliances. But how successful will that be, when today's teens are dependent on TVs, computers, video games, cell phones, blackberries and MP3 players? Nearly all parts of a teen's daily life utilize processes that add to global pollution.

Ignorance has aided in the spreading of one of the deadliest diseases to date, as well. Since the 1970s, HIV and AIDS have been spreading at a disturbing rate. It is estimated that every day, AIDS kills 8,000 people while 6,000 more are infected, many of them young people. In the coming years, AIDS is set to become the third leading cause of death worldwide.

It is this generation that can and must stop the spread of this epidemic. Many teens lack essential information about transmission of the disease or believe "it won't happen to them" and don't take necessary precautions. Sadly, the numbers show that it does happen and will persist if our generation does not stand up and take accountability.

Ignorance is a dangerous thing. Our generation can ignore these problems and pray they go away, but they won't. Not without major action on our part. There's a lot facing this generation. Between our less-than-friendly relations with the Middle East, the seemingly insurmountable deficit caused by the Iraq War, the energy crisis, problems here on the home front, and genocide in various parts of the world, we need to leave any ignorance behind, put on our "thinking caps" as we were told as children, and start paying attention. In a few years, all that weight will be on our shoulders, and if we don't learn how to lift it, the entire world could be feeling the pain.

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