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11 11 11 Climate change on Gen Yers agenda?

11.11.11 is a coalition of NGOs, unions, movements and solidarity groups in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. It combines the efforts of 70 organizations and 340 committees of volunteers who work together to achieve one common goal: a fairer world with no poverty. Each fall, the organization develops a striking campaign and this year the focus is on climate change. Headline of the multi-media campaign is: Climate change is killing the South. The campaign attracted a lot of attention in Flanders, also due to a rather provocative movie that was spread by social media, but more importantly, 11.11.11 confronted us with some shocking numbers. Did you know that there are 26 million climate refugees in the world, 325 million people suffer from severe health problems due to climate change and climate change even kills 300 000 people every year? Made me wonder how millenials look at the climate problem.

Looking for an answer, I came across a study from Harvard University Institute of Politics, released in April this year, held amongst 18 to 29 year olds. The study investigated what issues matter to millenials. Respondents had to choose between pairings of issues to determine which ones they felt were more important. Seems like American millenials care more about unemployment rates than climate change or income inequality. Being faced with higher unemployment rates than the national average, this doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s also something that affects youngster directly and instantly, more than ‘combating the impacts of climate change’. But I wouldn’t have expected the climate issue really on the very lower bottom of youngsters’ agendas.

Domestic affairs

Another study confirms that Gen Y’ers are somehow less committed towards environmental cause than are previous generations. The American Psychological Association published a long-term study that included millenials, as well as Gen Xers and Babyboomers. 15% of Millenials said they made no personal effort to help the environment, which is 3 times more than Boomers. Half of Millenials said they cut down on electricity use to save energy, again lower than 60% of Gen Xers and 68% amongst Boomers. Same drop in figures was noticed for reduce heating during winter to save energy: 56% vs. 71% and 78%. However, less green involvement was not the only difference between the different generations. This study also noted declines in young people’s political participation and empathy for others. Is this the individual generation we see? Or are they clearly worn out by the problem? Some suggest youngsters are less connected to nature and thus less involved.

As is the case with most studies, this is only a momentum. No doubt, the passing of Hurricane Sandy would have shifted results. According to the Pew Research Center polling we covered at the end of 2011, GenY, closely followed by GenX, is more likely than older generations to support clean energy and environmental protection and to believe climate change is happening. Besides generation, other factors like personality, education and income may also influence people’s green behavior. And finally, let’s not forget many young adults use sustainable materials, grow their own garden or use a bike as key transport mode. Fact is, it’s time to act now and over different generations and regions, we should all do our part.

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