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Younger generations are the most fatalistic about climate change

Younger generations are the most fatalistic about climate change

The idea that younger generations care the most about the climate while older people downplay the issue and refuse to take action is a widespread myth, according to new research.

To better understand differences between generations, including how they perceive one another and the biggest challenges of the day, my team at the Policy Institute at King’s College London and New Scientist commissioned a survey of more than 4000 people aged 18 and over in the US and UK. Responses were collected from 2 to 9 August.

Previous research has made clear that one of the most pervasive and destructive generational myths is that older cohorts don’t care about the environment or social purpose more generally. The new survey shows how dangerously caricatured this is.

In the UK, over three-quarters of baby boomers - who are defined as those currently aged 56-76 - agree that climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental issues are big enough problems that they justify significant changes to people’s lifestyles. This was as high as any other generation (see chart). Seven in 10 of this group say they are willing to make changes to their own lifestyle, completely in line with younger generations.

Older generations are also less fatalistic than the young: only one in five baby boomers say there is no point in changing their behaviour to tackle climate change because it won’t make any difference, compared with a third of Generation Z - those aged 18-25. This is an important driver of how we act: a sense that all is already lost leads to inertia.

But our study shows that people have a rather different impression of who thinks what: when we ask people which age group is most likely to say there is no point in changing their behaviour, the oldest group is the most likely to be picked out. We wrongly think they have given up. Social psychologists call this misconception “pluralistic ignorance”.
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