Members of the Millennial generation (aka Generation Y, born 1981-2000) are showing less commitment to environmental causes than are Baby Boomers and members of Generation X, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.
The paper examined life attitudes in several areas, but noted a particular change in attitude to green behaviors:
“The decline in wanting to take action to help the environment was particularly steep. Three times as many Millennials (15%) than Boomers (5%) said they made no personal effort at all to help the environment, and only 40% as many Millennials (9%) as Boomers (15%) said they made quite a bit of effort. Sixty-eight percent of Boomers and 60% of GenX’ers said they made an effort to cut down on electricity use to save energy, compared to 51% of Millennials. Similarly, 78% of Boomers and 71% of GenX’ers said they made an effort to reduce heat usage during the winter save energy, compared to 56% of Millennials. AF respondents also showed a generational decline in the life goal of ‘becoming involved in programs to clean up the environment.’”
Environmental attitudes were only one aspect of the attitudes studied in the two surveys of young people (high school seniors and college freshmen) that have been administered for the past 40 years. The study also noted declines in young people’s political participation and empathy for others.
Assuming the surveys accurately depict a change in attitude toward the environment and green living, what could be the cause? The Washington Post quotes DePaul University environmental science professor Mark Potosnak: “It’s not so much that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out. It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.” Another factor may be a lack of interaction with nature for the Internet generation.
Of course, there are many amazing young people doing wonderful work for the environment. Generational studies are tricky, but some of the study’s findings are borne out in other research. The Pew Research Center showed relatively few differences among the generations in green behaviors. While fewer Millennials recycle paper, plastic or glass at home (69% versus 77% of Gen Xers, and 72% of Boomers), this may be more a reflection of their stage of life than an attitude to the environment. Other indicators of green life style, such as buying organic foods or other green products, show little variation between generations, according to the 2010 Pew report. A recent study by Deloitte conducted for the Grocery Manufactuers Association found that the average green shopper is more likely to be a Baby Boomer than a Millennial or Gen Xer, noting that Millennials are more concerned with product price.
No Excuse for Ostriches
Is adopting green behavior a function of age, education, personality or income? Most likely it’s a combination. What’s certain is that if we stick our heads in the sand and pretend the earth’s problems have to be solved by the next generation (or the older one), nothing will be accomplished. No matter what our age or culture, everyone can do their part, or generations to come will be sure to suffer even more.