Climate Change? Most Gen Xers Not Concerned

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, July 19, 2012 (ENS) – Gen Xers, born from the early 1960s through the early 1980s, care less about climate change now than they did just three years ago, finds a new University of Michigan report.

Partisan affiliations predicted attitudes in the Gen Xers studied, who are now between 32 and 52 years of age, with nearly half of liberal Democrats alarmed or concerned compared with zero percent of conservative Republicans.

“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, author of “The Generation X Report.”

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The report, the fourth in a continuing series, compares Gen X attitudes about climate change in 2009 and 2011, and describes the levels of concern Gen Xers have about various 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 said. “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.”

There is a broad awareness of the issue, although many adults prefer to focus on more immediate issues – jobs and schools for their children – than the needs of the next generation, Miller found.

“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 said.

Miller directs the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the U-M Institute for Social Research. The study, funded by the National Science Foundation since 1986, now includes responses from some 4,000 Gen Xers.

Only about five percent of those surveyed in 2011 were alarmed about climate change, and another 18 percent said they were concerned about it.

But regardless of soaring temperatures across the United States this summer coupled with record-shattering drought, 66 percent of respondents said they are not sure that global warming is even happening, and about 10 percent said they do not believe global warming is occurring.

“This is an interesting and unexpected profile,” Miller said. “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.”

Dr. Jon D. Miller (Photo courtesy U. of Michigan)

Another unexpected result was the response from parents of young children. Given the greater anticipated impact of climate change on future generations, Miller expected that they 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.”

Because climate change is such a complex issue, education and scientific knowledge are important factors in explaining levels of concern, Miller said.

Adults with more education are more likely to be alarmed and concerned about climate change, he found. And those 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.

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

Miller found 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.

“The results of this report suggest that better educated young adults are more likely to recognize the importance of the problem,” said Miller.

Miller said, “These results will not give great comfort to either those deeply concerned about climate issues or those who are dismissive of the issue.”

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