Generation X doesn’t care about climate change

Generation X may be passionate about Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins albums like Gish, but Xers remain somewhat lukewarm about the causes and implications of climate change. 

“Most Generation Xers are surprisingly disengaged, dismissive or doubtful about whether global climate change is happening and they don’t spend much time worrying about it,” said Jon D. Miller of the University of Michigan. 

Miller, who authored a recent report titled “The Generation X Report,” compares Gen X attitudes about climate change in 2009 and 2011, and describes the levels of concern Xers have about different aspects of climate change, as well as their sources of information on the subject.

“We found a small but statistically significant decline between 2009 and 2011 in the level of attention and concern Generation X adults expressed about climate change,” Miller explained. “In 2009, about 22 percent said they followed the issue of climate change very or moderately closely. In 2011, only 16 percent said they did so.”

Interestingly enough, only about 5 percent of those surveyed in 2011 were alarmed about climate change, and another 18 percent said they were concerned about it. However, 66 percent said they aren’t sure that global warming is happening, while approximately 10 percent said they don’t believe global warming is actually happening.

“This is an interesting and unexpected profile,” Miller noted. “Few issues engage a solid majority of adults in our busy and pluralistic society, but the climate issue appears to attract fewer committed activists – on either side – than I would have expected.”

Because climate change is such a complex issue, education and scientific knowledge are clearly important factors in explaining levels of concern. Meaning, adults with more education are more likely to be alarmed and concerned about climate change.

Indeed, individuals who scored 90 or above on a 100-point Index of Civic Scientific Literacy also were significantly more likely to be alarmed or concerned than less knowledgeable adults. 

Nevertheless, 12 percent of those who were highly literate scientifically were either dismissive or doubtful about climate change.

In addition, partisan affiliations predicted attitudes, with nearly half of liberal Democrats alarmed or concerned compared with zero percent of conservative Republicans.

“There are clearly overlapping levels of concern among partisans of both political parties… But for some individuals, partisan loyalties may be helpful in making sense of an otherwise complicated issue.”

Given the greater anticipated impact of climate change on future generations, Miller expected that the parents of minor children would be more concerned about the issue than young adults without minor children.

“Not so,” he said. “Generation X adults without minor children were slightly more alarmed about climate change than were parents. The difference is small, but it is in the opposite direction than we expected.”

Miller also determined that Gen X adults used a combination of information sources to obtain information on the complex issue of climate change, with talking to friends, co-workers and family members among the most common sources of information.

“Climate change is an extremely complex issue, and many Generation X adults do not see it as an immediate problem that they need to address. he results of this report suggest that better educated young adults are more likely to recognize the importance of the problem.

“[Still], there is a broad awareness of the issue even though many adults prefer to focus on more immediate issues – jobs and schools for their children – than the needs of the next generation. These results will not give great comfort to either those deeply concerned about climate issues or those who are dismissive of the issue,” he added.