On this St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, the future looks to be a little less green.

One feature of modern urban living is the “free” tabloid newspaper you can pick up at rail and bus stations. Handy for the morning or evening commute…and a sign that the Internet is forcing the print news media to look for a new business model.

Friday I picked up a copy of The Express, the Washington Post’s experiment in this news space…and experienced a Twenge of conscience.

As in Jean Twenge[1], the lead author of a paper in this month’s online edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology entitled Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation (Twenge, J.M.; W. K. Campbell; and E.C. Freeman). As the title suggests, the purview of their study is rather broad. However, it was the environmental bit that caught the attention of The Express.

Here are the statistics. When surveyed decades ago, about a third of Baby Boomers said it was important to become involved personally in environmental cleanup programs. Years later, when GenXers were polled, only a quarter saw this as important. Only 21% of today’s Millennials say the same.

More generally, the years have seen a similar decline in young people’s trust in others, their interest in government, and the time they spent considering societal issues. But according to the study, the decline in interest in and concern for the environment was the most pronounced.

Those interviewed by the AP reporters (the source of the original news story) offered different possible explanations. Twenge herself was quoted as saying she’d thought the environmental message was getting through to young people and shocked to find it wasn’t. Others cited skepticism or confusion about climate change as a contributing cause. Still others said that Millennials think the issue is important but are just worn out.

A short squib at the bottom of the same page of The Express offered a slightly different take. Its message? That today’s young people haven’t spent as much of their lives in “the unpaved world.” [See for example, Living on the Real World…but longing for the Garden…] It’s hard to want to save what you don’t know and value firsthand.

The reality? Possibly a blend of all these factors…a lack of awareness of the Real World on which we ultimately depend for energy, food, water, and more – and a lack of trust that the society in which we live will make any work we do in this area effective.

Do we want to live well, and safely, and sustainably on this Real World of ours? Then our imperative, and highest priority, should be reawakening an environmental passion in our young people, and giving them frameworks and incentives that will make their efforts meaningful.



[1] Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University has achieved a measure of fame not just for her forty-some peer-reviewed papers but also for her book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before (2006), Simon&Schuster.

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3 Responses to On this St. Patrick’s Day Weekend, the future looks to be a little less green.

  1. Tracy Rouleau says:

    Thanks for this post – food for thought as I retire on a Sunday evening… Some of my favorite topics, environmentalism of course, generational differences, “stakeholder” fatigue (“Millennials think the issue is important but are just worn out”), and the first concept mentioned of changing business models.
    A bit disheartening, but I am always the optimist and will awake with a new perspective on Monday morning…

  2. Bill:-

    I think there might be a simpler explanation. Whatever the “should be’s” around it, environmentalism is a discretionary expenditure of time and resources. In parlous economic times such as these, it’s not too surprising that working age people are more internally focused on getting/keeping a job, particularly if you look at the sorry statistics for youth unemployment. As noted in Charles Murray’s recent book, the un[der]employed are much less involved in activities – like environmentalism – that could be considered to be community building. It may well be that the greenest thing any of us could do right now would be to find ways to assure jobs (and better yet, careers) for young black men (Lord, I hate to agree with Newt Gingrich!).

  3. Pingback: Millennial fatigue and Maria Mitchell. | Living on the Real World

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