Climate Change and the Millennial Generation by Samantha Jakuboski, February 26 2015, 0 Comments

Growing up in the 21st century is a whole lot different than growing up in the 1960-70s—my parents' generation. For one thing, thanks to Netflix and Hulu, there is no need to race back home after school to tune into Bewitched (or to go with the times, Pretty Little Liars). And, instead of going to the library to borrow books (and I mean actual paper books, not Kindles or Nooks), students go there mostly for the quiet study space it offers, since all the information we could possibly need is at our fingertips thanks to laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Such technological advancements account for most of the more discernible differences between my generation and that of my parents’, but they are not the only ones. As a Millennial, I would argue that one of the most important distinctions has to do with the subject of climate change. As children and teens, my parents barely—if ever—heard the words “climate change” and “global warming,” let alone knew exactly what they were and why they were occurring. After all, “climate change" as a term was only coined in 1956, and it wasn’t until 1975 that the term “global warming” was put into circulation. Hence, information on such environmental phenomena was limited. And as my father recalls, the only environmental issues that were ever brought to his attention as a child concerned the depleting ozone layer due to the release of aerosol from hairspray and Freon in air conditioners.

I, on the other hand, am growing up at a time when awareness and discussion regarding climate change is taking place on both the national and international level. The topic is being broadcasted across newspaper headlines, debated about in politics, and ignited through online media and social activism, as the recent Climate March in New York City demonstrated. Today, more and more studies are providing evidence that climate change is occurring and that humans are indeed to blame. Additionally, the effects of climate change are no longer just studied in theory; they are now being felt by people across the globe and are having devastating consequences. For anybody who experienced or witnessed the effects of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, this point should hit home. Personally, I will never forget driving through Red Hook, Brooklyn in the aftermath of the storm and passing street after flooded street (all of which looked like swimming pools), or looking at pictures in the newspaper of Lower Manhattan’s Hugh L. Carey Tunnel filled with storm surge water. Climate change acted as the hurricane’s steroids, increasing its magnitude and its large-scale destruction, and such extreme weather will only become more prevalent as climate change continues to intensify.

With such an abundance of information available to the public and the real world effects that climate change is now having on our lives, it would seem logical to assume that people nowadays, especially my generation, are more willing than they were in the past to accept the fact that climate change is happening and is caused by the actions of humans. Yet, according to results from a 2014 poll conduced by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, this does not seem to be the case. According to their data, only 64% of Americans believe that the earth is warming, down from 71% in 2008. Additionally, only 52% of these believers consider the warming to be caused by humans.

Regarding the beliefs of my generation, who are considered to be more “in the loop” when it comes to climate change since we are growing up in what can be viewed as a more “environmentally conscious” age, poll data once again provide us with some very unexpected results. According to a 2010 Yale survey, 18-34 year olds are no more likely to believe in climate change than the rest of the population; the percentage that believes the earth is warming is the same as the national percentage. What is even more shocking is that when this group was separated into smaller age categories, it was observed that the percentage of 18-22 year olds who believe the earth is warming is actually lower than the national percentage (54% versus the 2010 national average of 58%). Furthermore, according to these 2010 polls, my generation of 18-34 year olds seemed to be less concerned with the issue of climate change than most other age groups: only 38% have thought about climate change "some" or "a lot", compared to 51% of Americans between the ages of 35 and 59 and 44% of Americans 60 and older. The poll data did, however, show that the respondents in the 18-34 year old group are more optimistic about the future of climate change than are older generations, and that we are more willing to believe that it is the result of man-made causes rather than natural ones.

Such statistics show that there is still much more awareness and knowledge that needs to be spread. In fact, when asked if more information on climate change was needed, two thirds of my generation responded "yes" in the 2010 poll. This suggests that even though information about climate change is readily available, it is not reaching a large percentage of our population. It is therefore crucial that we work on spreading this knowledge. After all, it is up to my generation to deal with the consequences of the actions of the generations before us. We will be the policy makers and have the power to elicit change through alterations in our lifestyles and behaviors, but first, we need to be equipped with the right mindset and facts. I, therefore, hope that by blogging about climate change from a millennial perspective, I can help convince and encourage both non-believers and believers, especially of my generation, that climate change is real, that its effects are serious, and that we must all work together now to lead cleaner and greener lives.

Author Bio:

Samantha is a freshman at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is very interested in environmental science and hopes that through blogging, she can help change the way people view their actions in relation to the earth and environment and live more eco-friendly lives. Samantha also maintains the environmental science blog on Scitable, Green Science.