Climate change concerns unite Gens X and Y

(Credit: Getty Images)

Two generations of Australians, Generations X and Y, say climate change is their number one cause for concern, according to a new report

Contrary to stereotypes of young generations being narcissistic or complacent, researchers say both groups are united in concerns about the future of the environment.

Generation X worries what climate change will mean for their own children, while Generation Y is concerned about the impact on future generations, the study shows.

The Life Patterns longitudinal study has followed both generations of Australians since they left secondary school, tracking their experiences in education, the job market, family and personal relationships, as well as their attitudes to life, concerns, health, and wellbeing. The first group left high school in 1991 and the second left high school in 2006.

A father living in a rural area said, “climate change could ruin [his children’s] lives and our governments are not acting”.

“In 2017, we asked participants to nominate the three most important issues facing Australia,” says Julia Cook, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education Youth Research Centre.

“One major issue unites both generations: concerns about the environment and climate change. Other areas of concern tended to reflect people’s life stage,” Cook says.

For Generation X, the next major concerns were cost of living, security and terrorism, education, and the economy.

For Generation Y, the other important issues were lack of jobs/job security, drug abuse, housing affordability, and health.

“While specific views of what needs to be done about the problem varied, both groups consistently expressed grave concerns about the general lack of action towards climate change mitigation from the current government,” Cook says.

More detailed analysis showed that in the older cohort, women were nearly twice as likely as men to hold this concern for the environment, while in the younger group, men were more likely than women report concern about the environment.

One mother living in a country town, told researchers “we’re not going to have air to breathe soon,” while a father living in a rural area, noted “climate change could ruin their [his children’s] lives and our governments are not acting”.

For both generations, concerns about the environment stem from an apparent mistrust of governments to address climate change, Cook says.

“This sentiment was echoed in comments on other issues, indicating they believe governments are not adequately addressing everyday issues such as the cost of living, education, job security, and housing affordability,” she says.

The Australian Research Council supports the Life Patterns research program.

Source: Linda McSweeny for University of Melbourne