Climate Change and “Gen-X”

I recently read a fascinating article on the weather site. Apparently so-called “Generation X-ers”  (people born between 1961 and 1981) don’t particularly care about climate change. As the article notes,

Who is Generation X?
They’re the Americans who “grew up with MTV, Nirvana, and the dot-com bubble,” says The Atlantic. These individuals are better educated than their parents and work longer hours. They sit on their children’s school boards and are often active in their communities. “But, when it comes to climate change, Gen Xers voice a resounding ‘meh.'”

There are a number of reasons for this laissez-faire attitude apparently: information overload, economic worries, and problems with raising families, among others. But it is surprising that those in this group, most of whom are well educated — or at least schooled beyond the norm — seem to be unconcerned about an issue that should be of great concern to us all. And this is especially so since the weather news lately suggests that the problem is no longer a remote one but has arrived in our own back yards.

Social scientists have referred to this generation of young people as the “me” generation, which suggests a tendency to center their attention around themselves and their own immediate needs and wants. A number of readers who comment on my blogs seem to be “Generation X-ers” and they are almost to a person exceptions to this rule. In addition, I have two sons in this group and one of them (at least) is very concerned about what is going on around him. There are obviously Generation X-ers who care deeply about what is going on in the world, including challenges to the environment and the radical changes in the climate. But apparently, if polls are to be believed, the people I come into contact with are the exception. And this does not bode well. In order to solve a problem, we much first perceive that it is a problem. If there are growing numbers of people who ignore the problem it gives one pause.

But, one might say, there is hope among the “Generation Y-ers,” those who were born after 1981 and are now growing into their adult years and who are reputed to be deeply concerned about the world around them. Not so. A major study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which I alluded to in a blog back on March 22nd, suggest this generation, also called the “millennials,” care even less than their parents do about their world and turn their collective back on problems that demand our attention and our concern. The study reveals that, in fact, these young people are increasingly preoccupied with “money, image, and fame.” Thus the problem is compounded.

As far back as 1979 Christopher Lasch was describing our “Culture of Narcissism” in his best-selling book by that name. So the fact that many in our culture are preoccupied with themselves and their own problems is not new. These recent studies simply suggest that the problem has deep roots, perhaps even deeper than Lasch suspected. But given the fact mentioned above — that there are a number of very capable young people in these age groups — and given that preoccupation with self is natural when one is young and especially when one is trying to raise a family in a weak economy, awareness of the dangers of climate change may come eventually to these age groups. The problem seems so huge one tends to become a bit overwhelmed, especially when there are other problems close at hand that demand attention.

I would expect that when climate change begins to affect these people in the pocketbook — at the gas pump and the grocery store, they will realize that action is necessary. At that point they could become a formidable force and when the sleeping giant awakes (s)he may wreak havoc with the status quo. Let us hope so. In the meantime, the only formidable force in our nation today is the power of great wealth and for the most part the wealthy don’t give a tinker’s dam about climate change. Let us hope there is soon a resounding collision between the two forces.

7 thoughts on “Climate Change and “Gen-X”

  1. Is this a generational issue, I wonder? I think there are a number of baby boomers who are not as concerned about climate change as they should be. Reasonably intelligent people can be brainwashed with data from biased sources and too many news reporters want to be political correct in their coverage giving equal footage to these biased sources and scientists not vested in the outcome of policy making. It seems like on more and more topics with fewer journalists, it takes an effort to understand the underlying context on anything. You have an excellent, experienced eye who can read between the lines, knowing when someone is blowing smoke. I read today that PR engines are more rampant and telling the fewer journalists, if you want access to candidates or their people, you have to let them read their quotes beforehand. So, I am not certain this is a generational issue, but an issue of non-news superseding real news. I would love your and others thoughts on this.

    • I do think the educational system has been weakening more and more as the years have gone by. I can recall the things I required my students to do in the 60s that I would never have considered having them do in the 90s. So there are legitimate generational differences. And the evidence suggests that there has been an increasing preoccupation with self as the ability to read and comprehend lessens. The combination does not bode well. It’s not simply a generational issue, but that is certainly a factor.


      • Thanks for the insightful reply. You would have seen the changes over time in your class rooms. I appreciate the feedback.

  2. Maybe there is a combination of involvement with self and need for empowerment of self. If a lot of time is spent surviving and managing your own life, the little energy left over surely cannot effect something as expansive as climate change. What is one vote? one voice?
    Just another piece.

    • I imagine it is something like that. We all have only so much energy to give out each day. I suppose it’s a question of priorities?


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