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Study: Do millennials care more about climate? Apparently not – ‘The concept that old people will die off and we are just going to change the world may not hold true’

Do millennials care more about climate? Apparently not

Kelsey Brugger, E&E News reporter

Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Many millennials may appear to wear their environmental credentials on their proverbial sleeves, with outdoorsy Instagram posts, reusable YETI cups and electric scooters. Even craft breweries say they have become more environmentally conscious.

But according to a new study, millennials (those aged 17 to 36 in 2017) are not any more likely to do something about climate change than older generations. And, in fact, they talk about it even less.

“The concept that old people will die off and we are just going to change the world may not hold true,” said lead researcher Shruti Kuppa, who conducted the study through Johns Hopkins University’s Energy Policy and Climate Program. “We have to do better as environmentalists.”

She found it promising, though, that as people got older, they slightly altered their views. That’s particularly true when looking at liberals. Just 31 percent of liberal millennials said they had thought “a lot” about global warming before taking the survey. In contrast, 45 percent of Gen Xers (aged 37 to 52), 51 percent of Baby Boomers (53 to 71), and 50 percent of the Silent Generation (72 to 89) said the same.

Millennials responded about the same as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers when asked if they thought global warming was caused by humans — 50 to 59 percent said yes. Only the Silent Generation is mostly unconvinced that global warming is largely human-caused.

Among conservatives, age does not play as significant a role, the study found.

Kuppa, who is a millennial, said she became interested in this topic working on campaigns during the midterm elections in 2014. She noticed that some of her “comrades who were also fighting the good fight” used tactics that were not working. Rather than pouring money into solely targeting millennials, she said, she hopes the push for climate change action will gain traction more broadly.

The report was published this week on the website of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, and it compared data from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in 2009 to similar survey data collected in November 2017.

Eight years ago, researchers found that there was “no predictable portrait of young people when it comes to global warming.” They’ve found that little has changed.

Political beliefs remain a better indicator than age to determine if someone believes in global warming. “Millennials, just like other generations, are polarized,” Kuppa said.

Leah Stokes, a University of California, Santa Barbara, political science professor who was not involved in the study, said she was not surprised by the findings. She said environmental groups like to say that young people will save us, but that is unfortunately not accurate.

“That narrative has been going on since the ’90s, and I don’t think that’s true,” she said. New generations simply update their baselines, she added. “They don’t notice there are no more passenger pigeons. … The baseline of what we think it means to have a diverse or rich ecosystem changes over time.”