This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Backsliding?

I'm a big fan of Earth Day, having been there at its birth in 1970, as I have noted before. But there is some disturbing evidence from a colleague of mine here at SDSU that young people who have grown up in a world that has had an Earth Day every year of their life may have sort of zoned out on its importance. Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology and author of Generation Me, published a paper last month in which she and other researchers analyzed attitudes of young people today compared to baby boomers at the same age. The San Diego Union-Tribune saved the story for Earth Day:
Conventional thinking has it that young people are more interested in preserving the environment than their elders, but a new analysis by San Diego State researchers has turned that idea on its head and sparked debate about how Millennials view the world.
The social scientists say a desire to save the environment has fallen sharply among high school and college students since the 1970s, when the first Earth Day was celebrated and the modern environmental movement was born.
On the 42nd Earth Day, marked today around the globe, that downbeat assessment raises an important question about the future of green: Will the next wave of leaders care enough about the natural world to maintain momentum that has been won in courtrooms and boardrooms over decades?
“It doesn’t bode well,” said Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me” and a psychology professor at SDSU. “The generational trends toward more political disengagement, less environmental concern and more materialistic values could have a meaningful impact on society. It will be interesting to see how Millennials are affected by the recent recession and whether future generations will reverse the trends.”
Needless to say, the research has provoked both criticism and anger. One of the criticisms is that this finding is at odds with a recent Pew Research report showing that younger people were more likely than older people to think that global warming is a serious issue. But Twenge responds by noting that her research suggests that baby boomers started out not caring about the environment and now do care in higher numbers than when younger; whereas younger people today are increasingly concerned about themselves, rather than about the environment. The anger comes from people who don't want to hear any naysaying when it comes to support for the environment. But we all need to be waking each other up on this issue. In looking at the Pew report, I was frankly astonished that only 38 percent of Americans think that global warming is a serious issue. The truth is that Earth Day needs to be every day, not just once a year.

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