Fact Sheet

Why doesn't Generation X care about climate change?

Scientists are surprised to learn that Americans born between 1961 and 1981 are increasingly indifferent to rising temperatures

Over the past several years, the U.S. has seen temperatures soar during the summer months, and several Obama administration officials have linked recent severe weather patterns to climate change. The perceived effects of global warming are clearly worrying to many Americans. And yet, a new survey suggests that Generation X — generally Americans born between 1961 and 1981 — is growing increasingly unconcerned about climate change. Here, a guide to the survey:

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.'"

What did the survey find?
A University of Michigan study polled roughly 3,000 adults in an ongoing series, and in the most recent iteration, found a "small but statistically significant" decline in Gen X's attitude toward climate change, says Wendy Koch at USA Today. In the most recent survey, just 16 percent said they followed the issue "very" or "moderately closely," which is a 22 percent drop from 2009. People who said they did "not closely" follow the issue in 2009 were at 45 percent; in the most recent results that percentage climbed to 51 percent. So not only do fewer Gen Xers pay attention to climate change, but more and more are completely indifferent to the issue.

Why is this?
The report, funded by the National Science Foundation, cites the complexity of the climate-change issue, the distraction of the tough economy, and "issue fatigue," or being bombarded with too much information, as reasons for Gen X's laissez-faire attitude. Climate change has also become highly politicized, says The Atlantic — many people simply stick to their party lines. Somewhat surprisingly, though, Gen X parents cared about global warming even less than Gen Xers without children, even though their children would have to deal with it in the future. "I think it's really just... that running a family these days is a very time-consuming task," says report author Jon D. Miller.

Are scientists really surprised?
It's an "interesting and unexpected profile," Miller tells PhysOrg. "Few issues engage a solid majority of adults in our busy and pluralistic society, but the climate issue appears to attract fewer committed activists — on either side — than I would have expected." 

Sources: The Atlantic, Mother Nature Network, PhysOrgUSA Today

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