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How Green Is the Millennial Generation?

New study says young people less environmentally conscious

They have a reputation for being environmentally minded do-gooders. But an academic analysis of surveys spanning more than 40 years has found that today’s young Americans are less interested in the environment and in conserving resources — and often less civic-minded overall — than their elders were when they were young.

That’s the opening of a story from the Associated Press about a study that’s causing surprise – and some alarm – in the environmental community.

The findings go against the widespread belief that environmental issues have hit home with today’s young adults, known as Millennials, who have grown up amid climate change discussion and the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The environment is often listed among top concerns of young voters.

One of the authors of the study, psychology professor Jean Twenge, is shocked by what she’s seeing. Just for starters, much of what she herself has been saying and writing are clearly contradicted by these new findings. “We have the perception that we’re getting through to people,” she said. “But at least compared to previous eras, we’re not.”

Professor Twenge is the author of the book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before, which argues that narcissism is much more prevalent among people born in the 1980s than in earlier generations.

Twenge and her colleagues say the facts they’ve been studying indicate a steady decline among young people in concern about the environment, and in taking personal action to save it.

The new study is based on two longstanding national surveys of high school seniors and college freshmen.

When surveyed decades ago, about a third of young baby boomers said it was important to become personally involved in programs to clean up the environment. In comparison, only about a quarter of young Gen Xers — and 21 percent of Millennials — said the same.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of Millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 8 percent of young Gen Xers and 5 percent of young baby boomers.

Millennials also were the least likely to say they’d made an effort to conserve electricity and fuel used to heat their homes.

Commenting on the study, Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said he has noticed an increase in skepticism about climate change among his students.

“It’s not so much that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out,” he said. “It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.”

Read the A.P. article here. And the full study is available here.

What’s your perception of young people’s concern about environmental issues? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.