A Generation of Green Activist
Posted by: eric on November 30, 2009 at 11:58 am
Generation We is overwhelmingly pro-environment. Having grown up— unlike any previous generation—with the image on their computer monitors of Planet Earth as a precious, fragile blue sphere floating like an island of life in the darkness of space, the Millennials have a more profound environmental consciousness than earlier Americans. They can’t even remember a time when they thought of themselves as disconnected from other peoples, nations, or continents, their behavior of no consequence to others. They’ve always understood the deep interdependence of all humans on one another and on the environment we share.
They worry about global warming and believe strongly that we need to move away from dependence on fossil fuels and embrace the need for major investments in new energy technologies. In fact, one of the strongest elements of Millennials’ generational identity is making environmental protection a top priority—two-thirds said their generation is more likely than earlier generations to have this orientation.
Not only does Generation We embrace the cause of environmental protection and a new energy paradigm, they have a real sense of urgency about it. For example, in the Greenberg Millennials Study (GMS), 74 percent say, “We must make major investments now to innovate the next generation of nonfossil fuel based energy solutions,” compared to just 26 percent who say, “We should continue on our current path, gradually shifting the mix of sources used to meet our energy needs.” In addition, 94 percent agreed that “our country must take extreme measures now, before it is too late, to protect the environment and begin to reverse the damage we have done.” Seventy-four percent say this situation is either a “crisis that our country must address immediately” or a major problem.
In light of these views, it should come as no surprise that Generation We is highly supportive of ambitious ideas for changing our paradigm on energy and the environment. (Such ambitious ideas also closely track their penchant for innovation, collective social movements, and optimism.) For example, the following proposed solution received an average effectiveness rating of 7, where 10, the highest rating, represents extremely effective in dealing with that challenge and 0, the lowest rating, represents not at all effective in dealing with that challenge. Moreover, 71 percent gave it a rating of between 6 and 10 and about half (49 percent) rated it between 8 and 10 on the effectiveness scale.
Launch a concerted national effort, similar to the Apollo Program that put a man on the moon, with the goal of moving America beyond fossil fuels and inventing the next generation of energy, based on new technologies such as hydrogen or fusion. This aggressive plan would require a huge national investment but would produce millions of new jobs, could dramatically reduce environmental damage, and free us from our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil.
Given the scale of the proposed solution, this is an impressive response to which national leaders must pay attention.
Evidence from other surveys is consistent with the GMS findings. According to the Pew Gen Next survey, Generation We overwhelmingly believes that the country should do “whatever it takes” to protect the environment, that stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost and that people should be willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment. They also, according to the Magid Associates 2006 survey of Millennials, were more likely than any other age group to favor environmental protection, even at the cost of economic growth.
Concern about global warming, as in the GMS, is also high. In the June 2007 Democracy Corps poll of Millennials, 61 percent thought that “global warming represents an immediate threat and we need to start taking action now,” rather than “global warming represents a long-term threat and we need to study the problem before taking drastic action.”
A quest to develop the next generation of energy sources also seemed to engage the focus group participants more personally than most of the other big challenges presented to them. In keeping with the Millennials’ view that innovation, entrepreneurship, collective action, and advanced technology are the best ways to solve our biggest problems, they saw energy as an area within which they could really make a difference and where advancing American technology could potentially achieve something quite spectacular and alter the course of America’s future.