How green are Millennials? Not very

Green? Schmean.  Young Americans are less interested in environmental issues than baby boomers and Gen Xers were at the same age, concludes a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Over the last four decades, in young people have lost trust in others and interest in government; they spend less time thinking about social problems. And they’re not all that keen on green, notes AP.

Researchers found that, 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.

Young baby boomers and Gen Xers were much more likely than Millennials to say they’ve tried to conserve electricity and fuel used to heat their homes.

One professor says the younger generation has less contact with “unpaved” nature.

At Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, Biology Professor  Richard Niesenbaum estimates 5 to 10 percent of students are environmentalists, 5 percent are hostile to environmentalism and 85 to 90 percent are OK with protecting the environment and conserving resources, but not interested in being “seriously inconvenienced or paying a cost to do so.”

Perhaps Millennials are burned out on green.

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  1. Or perhaps Millenials are shallow and unserious? Are there other issues they don’t care much about either way? My guess is yess

    (and yes, I am now flipping over to the “Kids these days” segment of my life….. sigh…..)

    • Shallow and unserious? I’d suggest that making a planet-savingly big deal out of sorting your garbage is compelling evidence of shallowness and a good indication that seriousness is also a cheaply-purchased virtue.

      More likely the answer is, having grown up under a generation that reveled in the pretense of our own depth and empathy they’re just good and damned tired of the psuedo-religious moralizing that’s part of the generational morality play.

  2. J. Remarque says:

    Are the Millennials really “less green” than their predecessors, or are they just more honest than their predecessors, who are perhaps more inclined to mouth green platitudes?

    • I suspect that’s part of the reason. I remember wondering 20~ years ago how it was that the kids who were being fed all the green envirohype at school were the same kids who would throw their fast food garbage on the curb, like in the Iron Eyes Cody PSA from the 70s.

  3. Cranberry says:

    The Millennials were required to undergo “mandatory community service” to graduate high school.

    This is the result.

  4. Cranberry, where are you getting that? No one in a public school in my state has to do mandatory community service to graduate. Which states require it?

    • Cranberry says:

      NDC, the students at our local public high school, and other high schools in the area, must perform at least 40 hours of community service hours to receive a diploma.

      I think the requirement is set by the school committee, rather than the state.

    • The IB programs DO mandate that community service. No, the IB diploma is optional, but the pressure is strong to conform.

  5. George Larson says:

    Mandatory community service programs are increasingly becoming a standard part of the curriculum in many public schools across the country. For example, about 500 public school districts, including those in Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Detroit have adopted programs

  6. Stacy in NJ says:

    The environmentalist are a bunch of chicken littles and the younger generation knows it.

    • StacysAnIdiot says:

      Environmentalists are using science and reason to understand and educate others about the increasing demands on our global systems. To flatly deny the value of all environmental research and responsibility is to identify yourself as a blind stooge who couldn’t care less about the impact of our lazy wasteful ways.

      The Millennials may be burned out on Green. But that doesn’t mean they’re right to bury their heads in the sand.

      • Cranberry says:

        The user name you chose does you no credit.

        It’s behavior like that (pointless, ad-hominem insults, which is a form of bullying) which has taught Millenials to outwardly comply with zealots in authority, but not adopt the behavior the zealot preaches.

        It’s very similar to the lapsed Catholics who once attended parochial schools. Not agreeing to the doctrine of Original Sin doesn’t make them wrong in the eyes of people who don’t believe in Catholic doctrine–it means they disagree.

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Environmentalists are using pseudo-science and pseudo reason to manipulate and fear monger the public into adopting public policy that favors their prefered social outcomes but has little measureable improvement to the environment.

        To over estimate the value of all environmental research that is frequently shaped by political interests is to identify yourself as a blind stooge who couldn’t care less about the impact of our lazy wasteful ways.

        The Millennials may be burned out on Green. But that doesn’t mean they’re right to bury their heads in the sand. But, they are right to question the ethics of those who push an environmental agenda as a religious belief system.

        There, I fixed it for you.

  7. dangermom says:

    I think it’s probably a combination of overkill and lack of immersion in nature. If you didn’t spend your childhood outside playing with frogs, it’s hard to care much about them.

    • Former Teacher says:

      I think that’s a lot of it. Maybe they (on the whole) don’t appreciate much outside of their electronic devices and whatever else they are growing up spending lots of time with. We oldsters spent more time in nature when we were young.

      I didn’t recycle that much until I got a job at a zoo. Now that I spend lots of time around these gorgeous animals, I see the importance and make the effort. It’s not just some vague “save the earth” thing.

  8. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I think the definition has changed some. I’m GenX, and it took some effort to recycle when I was growing up. Now it takes none at all– the recycling cans are all over the place, and single-stream is common. High gas prices demand higher mileage cars. Home insulation is standard. Every appliance I own has that little “e” on it. By the standards of the 70s, my environmental practices peg me at tree-hugging fruitloop. Now I just do what everybody else does. Even my modest efforts at locavorism are mainstream.

    • Ponderosa says:

      I’ll bet sheer ignorance contributes to the lack of concern. With NCLB curriculum-narrowing, science and current events get neglected. How many kids know that the forests of Africa and SE Asia are disappearing, that there’s a giant garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific, that much of the sea next to China is a dead zone, that Earth may not have enough arable land to sustainably feed the giant population of the future, that cows and logging trash the ecosystems of most California national forests, that species are going extinct at a record rate, that nuclear power plants around America are sitting on tons of radioactive waste that no one knows what to do with? Who tells them these things? No one.

      • Richard Nieporent says:

        Ponderosa, I really don’t relish arguing with an environmental religious fanatic because no amount of facts will change the persons beliefs, but I would like you to consider the following fact.

        More than 90 percent of all organisms that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. As new species evolve to fit ever changing ecological niches, older species fade away. But the rate of extinction is far from constant. At least a handful of times in the last 500 million years, 50 to more than 90 percent of all species on Earth have disappeared in a geological blink of the eye.

        The Permian-Triassic extinction event about 250 million years ago was the deadliest: More than 90 percent of all species perished.

        So why do you think that species are now dying out in record numbers?

        • Richard Nieporent says:
        • Ponderosa says:


          Billions of poor people are turning the last shreds of native habitat into farming monocultures –see Malaysia, Congo, the Amazon, etc. We are heading for a radically diminished planet. Cow, cockroach, starling.

          There are SO many ills befalling the planet right now, but unless you read about them, you don’t know about them, and it becomes easy to dismiss the worriers like me.

          • Richard Nieporent says:

            You didn’t answer my question Pondarosa. What is the factual basis for your assertion that species are dying out in record number?

            There are SO many ills befalling the planet right now

            As opposed to the pristine environment that existed during the time of the environmental Garden of Eden? When was that time? You appear to have this irrational belief that the Earth is being destroyed by mankind. Have you read the Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg? He documents in the book, using data from the UN and other public sources, that the environment is getting better not worse. The amount of pollutants in the air, and water have been decreasing over time. Unfortunately environmental organizations, in order to keep the money flowing from credulous individuals, simply lie about the state of the environment.

    • Lightly season, I thought about that too. My gen X peers and I would have counted recycling or selecting a car partially based on fuel economy as doing something, but Millennials may regard it as the default and therefore, nothing.

      I wonder about the specifics of the questions.

  9. When my children were younger and slightly caught up in flogging their parents to conserve energy and to recycle, I let them know that real environmentalism will mean a sacrifice in their material goods, electricity use, and travel. I let them decide how serious they were about saving the planet.

    Just like many people who claim to be environmentalists, they demanded other people make sacrifices while they rationalized their own choices as superior.

  10. Ponderosa says:

    MTheads, what is your point? Some environmentalists DO make sacrifices. OK, some may not, but how is that an argument against sacrificing some comfort and convenience for the sake of the planet? Do you think humans should completely disregard their impact on the planet? Do you think we have any individual responsibility, or do you think the government should take care of it?

  11. Yes, no, no, and who cares?

    It’s people like you with your earnest, moralizing bleating that finally turned off a generation to the pointless wasted time of “living green”. I suppose I should thank you for their blithe lack of concern, but given that I’ve had to read years and years of said earnest, moralizing bleating, I still feel I came out slightly behind on the deal.

  12. My point is, Ponderosa, my children were taught a trivial form of environmentalism which consists mostly of attempting to extort certain behavioral changes in the people around them while not requiring any true sacrifice from themselves.

    What is wrong with having my children think scientifically about what actually works? Or having them weigh the costs and benefits of any reforms? Changes in behavior will have consequences, too. Let them give it a bit more thought than it takes to read a Whole Food’s insert.

    Most of the environmental activism I’ve come across is about aesthetics and not about saving the planet. It’s ideologically driven and has little to do with what we can actually do to minimize our impact on our planet.

    • SuperSub says:

      Its not ideologically driven… its economically driven. Most of the big enviro pushes over the past 15 years have been little more than government-sponsored fraud masquerading as green business.

      Plus, the current crop of teens and 20-somethings have been effectively taught that “liking” something on Facebook is enough to support it, rather than actually doing something about it.

      • Ponderosa says:

        SuperSub –I think you delude yourself. Most enviros I know are well-informed and super-conscientious. They have no covert agenda –they just want to do good. Why is this so hard to understand? As Freud (and Plato, more or less) point out, our Id just wants the Superego to go away. It tries to do this by attributing its own base motives to the opposition –“It all boils down to greed!”. My brother quit his lucrative pharmaceutical job to get a doctorate in green chemistry and now he makes green chemicals. He did not do this for more money. Listen, I wish our world was one in which we could satisfy our urges to our hearts’ content without a pang of guilt. But that’s a childish fantasy. Time to face reality and start behaving ourselves.

        • SuperSub says:

          Oh, I don’t think that the majority of green workers are greedy…just that the heads of the industry and individuals in the government are profiting heavily off of taxpayers and truly concerned individuals.
          Our school recently installed solar panels with the assistance of a federal grant. The problem is, that even if the panels perform ideally over their predicted lifespan, the savings in electricity costs will only be a little over half of the total costs of the panel installation.

        • Richard Nieporent says:

          Most enviros I know are well-informed and super-conscientious. They have no covert agenda –they just want to do good.

          Unfortunately the results of them doing “good” is to condemn third world people to a life of depredation, misery and early death. Their love of Earth translates into a callous disregard for these people.

          • But Africa is so far away! As long as no one in the US is dying of malaria, Dengue, or West Nile, who needs DDT? A couple tens of millions of people sacrificed to bad science isn’t all that great a price to pay for Green, is it?

      • I’ve seen far too many green bumper stickers (including veggie ones like love animals, don’t eat them) on expensive leather-seated cars, driven by people carrying leather briefcases and large leather purses to take said people seriously. Also, clotheslines are exceedingly green and exceedingly likely to be banned in many affluent neighborhoods.

  13. Deirdre Mundy says:

    In college, I used to try to use logic to argue with knee-jerk recyclers. (I’m Gen X). I’d point out that while recycling aluminum was useful, the stats on plastic and paper were a lot less convincing.

    The answer I’d get “Look, I need to know I’m doing SOMETHING to help. And it makes me feel better. And it shows I’m a good person!”

    Maybe the Millenials have just found a DIFFERENT meaningless way to feel like they’re part of a group and a decent person…. but is ‘liking’ something on facebook REALLY less shallow than sticking a green ‘recycle’ sticker on your bumper?

    Maybe the problem is that YOUTH is callow…. nahhhh… couldn’t be… because they’re the future! And they have the wisdom we’ve lost! Which is why we need to Rock the Vote!

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Also, I think the millenials need to get off my lawn and stop playing that music so loud.

  14. Or maybe we’ve just reached a point where the state of the environment is acceptable to us. After all, when was the last time a river caught fire?

  15. I remember the first Earth Day (1970) and the beginnings of the green movement. The goals stated at the time were met decades ago; now the movement is out on the left fringes, trying to impose high-cost mandates to force a percentage point improvement at or over the 95% clean/safe mark, whether or not (probably not) such an improvement is either cost-effective or really significant.

  16. Roger Sweeny says:

    momof4 and Ponderosa,

    I think you are both right. When it comes to clean air, clean water, safe pesticides, all that, in the United States, we have 95% of it and getting the remaining 5% would noticeably lower Americans’ standard of living.

    However, there are other things happening in the rest of the world. The only way poor people can become rich is to significantly expand their ecological footprint: clear more land for food and pasture, mine things, dam rivers, burn things. This leads to a lot of extinction (well above background levels) and pollution. One of the greatest challenges of the next several decades is to develop ways to be rich without doing so much environmental damage.

    This will almost certainly involve new technology, like genetically engineered crops. Unfortunately, many people who consider themselves environmentalists think it is possible to go back to some less-technological more-Eden-like state. Doing so would put a crimp in the lifestyles of the rich “North” and condemn to eternal poverty the far larger numbers in the not-so-rich “South.”

    • They would also rather avoid using our energy resources, which we produce in the cleanest manner on the planet, in order to import petroleum products from countries which do not produce them nearly as cleanly
      Also, I’ve never been convinced that poor people in the Third World are uninterested in things like clean water, proper sewers, reliable electricity, access to modern farming technology and to more productive seeds and crops. no matter how picturesque or anthropologically interesting their current lives are.