Gen Z Is More Fatalistic Than Boomers About Climate Change

Nov. 10, 2021 — Members of Generation Z, or anyone born after 1996, are much likelier than baby boomers to have fatalistic views about behavioral adjustments to combat climate change, according to a survey of U.S. adults. Yet the two age groups are equally likely to make such changes.

Conventional wisdom puts the two generations in opposing stances. Gen Z is represented as a group of Greta Thunbergs, crusading for broad societal changes to slow and reverse the effects of global warming. Meanwhile, boomers, or those born after World War II through the mid-1960s, are cast as unwilling to abandon SUVs or disposable coffee cups for the sake of future generations.

For a clearer picture of generational attitudes around climate change, researchers at Kings College London conducted a survey in August 2021 of a representative sample of 2,153 U.S. adults. (The investigators also asked about other issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic.)

One in 3 Gen Zers agreed with a statement that changing behaviors to tackle climate change won’t make any difference, compared with 1 in 4 baby boomers endorsing this sentiment. Yet boomers didn’t seem to have faith in their own beliefs: They were far likelier than respondents from other age groups to agree that people ages 65 to 79 would view personal changes as futile in the fight against climate change.

In contrast to this expressed pessimism, the percentage of people in each generation willing to make big lifestyle changes to combat climate change were similar, including 60% of boomers and 61% of Gen Zers.

Across all age groups surveyed, almost two-thirds of respondents thought there was more intergenerational conflict today than a few decades ago. But only 54% of boomers felt this way compared with 72% of Gen Zers.

The results are a just a snapshot of attitudes at a single point in time. It’s possible that responses would look different depending on the timing of the survey.

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