Environmentally conscious teens on the decline, study says

Today’s young American adults don’t really care about the environment or civil rights, says an academic analysis of surveys spanning more than 40 years.

The findings refute the widespread belief that teens pay heed to mantras like ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.

The study, conducted at San Diego State University in the US, was led by psychology professor Jean Twenge, author of the book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before, and published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Twenge and colleagues carried out two longstanding national surveys of high school seniors and college freshmen – the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project and the American Freshman project, administered by the Higher Education Research Institute.

The researchers found a decline over the last four decades in young people’s trust in others, their interest in government and the time they said they spent thinking about social problems.

Most surprising of all was an indication that young people are increasingly less concerned about the environment, and about taking personal action to save it.

Fifteen per cent of American Millennials – another term for young adults – said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 8% of young Gen Xers and 5% of young Baby Boomers.

Beth Christensen, who heads the environmental studies programme at Adelphi University on New York’s Long Island, says students need to experience conservation more directly in their lives. At Babson College in Massachusetts, for instance, student housing is called the ‘Green Tower’, and the focus is on conserving resources. It is a growing trend on many college campuses. Students also need to hike more to experience nature, says Christensen.

Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, attributes the lassitude to fatigue. “It’s not so much that young people don’t think the environment is 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.”

Category: Winter 2012

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