When surveyed in their youth, about a third of Baby Boomers believed it was important to take personal action in environmental cleanup efforts, which dwindled to 25 percent among Gen Xers and 21 percent of Millennials at the same age. 15 percent of Millennials responded that they made no effort to save the environment, double the response for young Gen Xers and triple the response for young Baby Boomers.
Potential explanations offered include increased narcissism and shorter attention spans in the Millennial generation. Alternatively, it was suggested that Millennials might just be on information overload about the state of the environment.
"It's not so much that they don't think it's important. They're just worn out. It's like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it." - Dr. Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago
I think both of these points are related to the fact that Millennials were the first kids raised with instant messaging and online social networking sites as part of everyday life. Through these platforms, we have the ability to share All About Me 24/7 with friends from next door and halfway around the world. We get global news instantly, and then click to display in our feed that we care about global warming, or poverty, or sex trafficking. Images and news stories quickly go viral, coming and going so rapidly that we don't consider issues long enough to translate the information into action. We are a generation of Social Media Activists, but the study indicates that we don't put our time or money where our tweets are.
In defense of the Millennials, I think it’s worth considering that most 20-somethings are in a different place than our parents or grandparents were at our age. We graduated in the midst of the worst economic conditions since the depression**, and many are still struggling to find a solid job or career trajectory. We are getting married and having kids later, and most of us are not even close to buying a home. We're less likely to be settled in our twenties than the generation before us, and I think that the transitory nature of our lives impedes community involvement. Our most stable community IS online. And as apartment renters, it makes sense that we're less likely to have made efforts to reduce our fuel consumption in the home - not only do we have less financial incentive to do so, we are also limited in our ability to make changes to our living space. Maybe if they give us a little more time, they'll start to see a greater investment in green and civic issues from Millennials.
My fellow Millennials, what do you think? Do we care as much as we tweet we do? Non-Millennials welcome to comment as well!
(I'm a little biased - I had the privilege of working with some amazing Millennials to raise money to build clean water wells in African communities.)
*Full study available here.
**Data for the study was collected before the big economic downturn, but the trends of settling down later and taking longer to find a stable career path were already established at this point. So we can’t blame everything on the economy, even though it’s fun.