Climate change is a primary concern for a majority of teenagers, but it’s also one of their biggest sources of motivation.
That’s according to a new nationwide poll published Wednesday, which found that 84% of teenagers believe climate change left unchecked will trigger global political instability and render parts of the planet uninhabitable. A vast majority of respondents said companies and legislators aren’t doing enough, and said they still wish to become involved in helping the planet’s future.
“Climate change is something that’s very top of mind for teens,” said Julia Majors, public relations manager for the national council of 4-H, a nationwide youth development organization.
“Of course that is a sad finding to hear,” she said, adding that youth often feel the burden is on them to fix the world, if not for themselves then for the future of humanity. “It’s unfortunate that [climate change] is a very serious issue that our kids have to be focused on.”
The survey was conducted on behalf of 4-H by The Harris Poll, an American marketing and analytics company. Some 1,500 respondents between 13 and 19 years old were polled to gain a better understanding of what concerns teenagers have about the environment.
Barely half feel their community is doing enough to protect their environment, and nearly 70% fear their families will soon experience flooding, wildfires, extreme heat and other extreme weather events exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels.
Surveyors said respondents spanned several demographics from urban, suburban and rural communities.
“This is an issue on which they’re quite united,” said Abbey Lunney, managing director of The Harris Poll.
According to the Pew Research Center, Generation Z, or Gen Z, encompasses anyone born between 1997 and 2012, while the millennial generation refers to people born between 1981 and 1996.
Gen Z might have more realists than other generations, Lunney said.
“You can’t fool Gen Z — they’re more grounded in facts and reality,” she said. “But they also are much more empowered to try and create the change that they want and need.”
Media literacy and constant access to an expansive network of information from a young age could explain the disparity among generations in concern for climate change and other global issues. Lack of childhood access to nature and outdoor activities is an issue for young people today.
The survey found that not only do teenagers spend a cumulative average of less than 11 days outdoors per year, about 1 in 10 didn’t participate in outdoor activities while they were growing up.
The global movement to tackle climate change was rekindled dramatically in 2018 by Greta Thunberg, who staged a sit-in at the Swedish parliament to urge her country and other world leaders to honor their promises to slash harmful emissions and curb human-induced global warming. Young women around the world have led the charge ever since, but political inertia, corporate profiteering and poor public awareness continue to stand in the way of progress.
Still, Majors said, young people appear as worried as they are ready to make a difference.
“Young people feel the onus on them and they want to get involved,” she said. “So there’s hope as well.”