Do young people care about climate change less than everyone else?

I just ran a workshop on climate change with  120 bright and articulate Quakers aged 13 – 20. Some of the results of the discussion were so interesting that I thought they were worth sharing.

In one session, I asked the young people whether they agreed or disagreed with various statements. The results looked like this:

Agree Don’t know Disagree
I like marmite 48% 3% 49%
I support a football team 40% 0% 60%
Twitter is a good idea 8% 46% 46%
Climate change should concern everyone 98% 0% 2%
It’s hard to know what to do about climate change 70% 0% 30%
Climate change and how we respond to it are among the biggest issues I worry about today 5% 45% 50%
I am personally making a significant effort to help reduce climate change through how I live my life today 15% 35% 35%

The last two of these questions were lifted from HSBC’s annual ‘climate confidence’ survey (pdf). Here’s how the data compare.

% of young people that agreed in the workshop (from table above) % of UK that agrees (from HSBC survey 2008)
Climate change and how we respond to it are among the biggest issues I worry about today 5% 26%
I am personally making a significant effort to help reduce climate change through how I live my life today 15% 26%

What’s going on there? How come this group of well-informed (most of them knew where Mozambique is, which was more that I could say) and thoughtful world-inheritors cares less about climate change than the general population? I put this to them, and the two most common answers were:

We’re being more honest. In the national survey, people were probably trying to look good.

(that’s my theory)

Teenagers are focused on problems closer to home. Climate change is too abstract to concern young people.

In another session, I asked the young people to rank the effectiveness of various actions in terms of addressing climate change. The picture below shows how they stack up (each column represents the consensus of a group of around 12, with the top action rated most effective – click to expand).

  • Red = Go vegetarian
  • Yellow = Stay in the UK instead of flying abroad on holiday
  • Orange = Discuss climate change with your friends
  • Blue = Write to a supermarket to tell them to be greener
  • Green = Write to your local politician to ask them to do more about climate change
  • Purple = Join a campaigning NGO
Results from the Quaker workshop

Results from the session with young Quakers

The clearest message is the variation, and the groups said that people don’t have the information to understand the effectiveness of actions like these. But to force a crude ranking, where the top rated action scores 6, the second scores 5 and so on, the order from most to least effective is:

  • Stay in the UK instead of flying abroad on holiday (47)
  • Join a campaigning NGO (40)
  • Write to your local politician to ask them to do more about climate change (38.5)
  • Go vegetarian (31.5)
  • Write to a supermarket to tell them to be greener (31)
  • Discuss climate change with your friends (22)

One thing is for sure – young Quakers prefer Marmite to Twitter.

Thanks to Yorkshire Friends Holiday School for inviting me to talk.

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One Response to “Do young people care about climate change less than everyone else?”

  1. Young people are a key sector for us to be engaging, especially urban youth as the majority of the world now lives in urban areas.
    I think the issue of relevance you brought up is very important. We need to make climate change, being green much mor4e specific, concrete, tangible and relevant to everyday people.
    Here are some questions to get the conversation going:
    What does being green mean to you?
    Does it have to do with your health? clean air to breathe? safe water to drink? safe food to eat? safe places to live? Diverse people in the community who know, respect, and support each other and care for the environment on a daily basis?
    What role does time in nature play in understanding the need for environmental stewardship?
    What role does knowing how food grows and where oxygen comes from play in becoming an environmental leader?
    What role does having access to good paying jobs that improve a community play?
    These all are part of my answer as to what being green means to me.

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