Environmental issues get a lot more media coverage nowadays than they did only 15 years ago. Baby boomers are certainly aware of the shift. Gen Xers, too. And these generational cohorts tend to be more mindful of so-called “green” practices.
But Millennials — the children of baby boomers born between, say, the late 1980s and early ’90s — not so much. In fact, a recent academic analysis shows, young Americans are less interested in the environment, less in conservation-minded, and often less civic-minded overall, than their elders were when they were young.
The findings are based on a study of two surveys of young people in the U.S., one an annual survey of high school seniors conducted from 1976 through 2008, the other a survey of first-year college students conducted from 1966 through 2009.
“I was shocked,” study co-author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, told the Associated Press. “We have the perception that we’re getting through to people. But at least compared to previous eras, we’re not.”
The surveys showed, for example, that 15% of Millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 8% of young Gen Xers and 5% of young baby boomers. Millennials also were the least interested in energy conservation, with 56% saying they would try to conserve electricity and heating fuel, compared with 78% of young baby boomers and 71% of Gen Xers.
Emily Stokes, a 20-year-old geography student at Western Washington University, suggested that young people who grow up surrounded by natural beauty tend to be more eco-conscious than those whose experience is limited to urban or suburban settings.
“But I still find myself pretty frustrated a lot of the time,” Stokes, who wants to go into marine resource management, told the AP. “I just think our generation seems fairly narcissistic — and we seem to have the shortest attention span.”
But Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said he has noticed increasing skepticism, and perhaps confusion, about climate change as the subject has become more politically charged and the national debate more vigorous. That, Potosnak said, leads to fatigue.
“It’s not so much that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out,” he noted. “It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.”