Apparently, millennials are the least environmentally conscious generation. Jean Twenge, author of this discovery, claims that she too was shocked by this. Twenge conducted two national long-term studies of high school seniors and college freshman and their interest in government as well as social problems. In collecting her data, she noticed that, while there were declines across all categories, interest in the environment demonstrated the steepest dropoff. Examples:
On conserving fuel used to heat their homes:
78 percent of young baby boomers said they cut back
71 percent of young Gen Xers said they cut back
56 percent of Millennials said they cut back
On becoming personally involved with cleaning up the environment:
15 percent of Millennials said they made no effort
8 percent of young Gen Xers said they made no effort
5 percent of young baby boomers said they made no effort
On how important it is to become personally involved in program to clean up the environment:
1/3 of young baby boomers said it was important
1/4 of young Gen Xers said it was important
21 percent of Millennials said it was important
What would justify these results? Several other social scientists and students pondered this thought and offered that:
(1) A lot of young people don’t spend time exploring nature.
(2) Young people are lazy and expect things to be given to them (call it entitled).
(3) Young people are increasingly desensitized to political and social situations because of the sheer volume of information they received via the media, school, etc.
I would be shocked and alarmed by this discovery, too—and at first I was. Except then I sat back and pondered the information and I’ve come up with a couple of my own thoughts/justifications/considerations:
(1) Surveys, while a good source of data, can also be very biased. When a respondent is the one submitting their own answers without any way to check these answers, there is always a flag of inherent personal bias.
(2) Environmental efforts are much more ingrained in our present society. For example, recycling is becoming much more prevalent and for many young people, it can be second nature. Another example: reusable bags.
(3) The environment has come a long way since the baby boomers and Gen X. It’s an important caveat to note that that our air has become much clean (Clean Air Act), our waterways much cleaner (Clean Water Act), and our drinking water much safer to consume (Safe Drinking Water Act). Love Canal didn’t happen during the Millennial generation, nor did the Cuyahoga river fire. These are inspirational, unique events that led to increased action and awareness that brought about landmark legislation.
(4) As the AP article noted and cannot be overlooked: The most recent data collected on Millennials was taken before the recession hit. The baby boomers, in particular, but also Gen X, went through their own financial struggles that made them aware of conservation efforts.
(5) On the note of conservation efforts, reducing heat/AC may not be indicative of environmental consciousness; remember, young people very seldom have control over the AC/heat in their homes—their parents are the ones who do and if young people are taught to turn it on or off, it is more likely to be because of their parents than any conscious effort on their parts. This can be likened to taking public transportation–without asking why, you don’t know if it’s because gas costs too much or because they believe in reducing their carbon footprint.
(6) While Twenge collected data from the same age bracket throughout her surveys, the dynamics of the age bracket have changed. High school seniors are now more likely to go to college and are increasingly focused on achieving that next step in their education at that age.
(7) It is noted that less young people write to their member of congress. There are several things wrong with noting this as a point of being less involved:
- Many of the people who write to their member of congress today do so by clicking a link in an e-mail that was sent to them as a member of the group. Membership typically comes by way of a monetary donation or paying dues. Many young people lack the money to pay for this kind of involvement.
- As someone who has worked in a Congressional office, the responses one receives in return for actually taking the time to really, truly write to their member are the same ones that people who sent in a form letter receive. Tell me, what’s the incentive? (Not saying it shouldn’t be done, but also asking).
(8) As Mike and Morley note in their blog, Twenge’s previous work’s foundation is on the notion that Millennials are a “me” and not a “we” generation. So perhaps (I won’t assume as admittedly I have not read the study) there is an element of bias in her study.
You might say that I am also biased in how I look at her study. I surround myself day-to-day with many people (though not exclusively) who do care about the environment, who compost, subscribe to the “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” philosophy, etc. So I will make this one final statement about this discovery: Jean’s Twenge’s justifications are not without any form of merit; however, it is only one study. And, as we know within the world of science, it’s duplication of results that leads to new theory. We here at Spinach look forward to further review.